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More wind farms are expected to be rolled out across Scotland as part of a transition to a “low carbon future”, ministers have said.
It comes just days after the retiring head of the body representing Scotland’s climbers and hillwalkers insisted turbines had already “irrevocably damaged” areas of the Highlands.
David Gibson, who is stepping down as chief executive officer of Mountaineering Scotland, said the growth of wind farms was “unsustainable”.
But the Scottish Government has now unveiled plans for onshore wind to play a “growing and valuable role in our transition to a low carbon future”.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said he was “determined to help ensure a route to market for new developments”, adding that the technology was changing towards “larger, more efficient turbines which have made onshore wind highly cost effective”.
Introducing the Scottish Government’s first energy strategy, he said: “Our planning system already makes positive and proactive provision for onshore wind – protecting our landscapes and ensuring development goes ahead only in the right places.
“And that will remain the case, and ensure that onshore wind can continue to power Scotland’s low carbon future, while involving, regenerating and benefitting local communities.”
Campaigners have previously raised concerns around wind farms being built in areas of designated wild land, such as on the Altnaharra Estate in Sutherland, but Mr Wheelhouse insisted such concerns were taken into account.
He said: “It’s very much part of our consideration, looking at wild land issues. It’s not a formal designation, but it’s also important that we recognise that within the process – that’s an improvement we’ve made to the planning system in Scotland and it’s one that’s been warmly welcomed.
“There are a number of sites which have not entirely been rejected on the grounds of wild land, but it’s been a contributory factor to a rejection of a planning application.
“Equally we don’t want to portray a picture that wild land will be a barrier to development of sensible projects in good locations.”
Announcing his retirement earlier this week, Mr Gibson said that though Mountaineering Scotland had won several battles against intrusive wind farms, it had also lost others.
The 65-year-old added: “The vast majority of the public have never been near the mountains so they have no real idea of the damage that wind farms can do to the landscape.
“It is not sustainable for the First Minister or [national tourism body] VisitScotland to trumpet Scotland as the best country in the world to visit while these large wind farms are being built on such scale.
“And there are two dozen more in the pipeline of concern because of their size and positioning.
“There have already been too many wind farms constructed – or will be built – that have irrevocably damaged the landscape, or will do when they are constructed.”
As well as announcing continued investment in wind energy, the Scottish Government said it would pump £80 million into low carbon growth schemes.
Meanwhile, plans for a publicly owned, not-for-profit energy company will be put out to consultation next year.
And ministers also set a target for half of Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption to be supplied from renewable sources by 2030.
Mr Wheelhouse said there had been a 12 per cent increase in the level of community and locally owned renewable capacity operating in Scotland.
But Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said the Government had provided “very little detail” about how it hopes to achieve its goals.
He said: “In fact this strategy is notable mostly for its lack of any detail on the widely publicised publicly owned Scottish Energy Company, despite repeated questions.
“With commendable ambitions but absolutely no detail, this strategy is pure hot air.”
Scottish Tory MSP Donald Cameron, who represents the Highlands and Islands, had earlier raised concerns about the “many environmental groups, as well as a huge number of local communities who feel that our natural landscape has already been compromised by onshore wind”.
Scottish Labour economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie MSP said there was “much to welcome in the energy strategy”, but called for jobs to be put at its heart.
She added: “It is fair to say that the major investment in renewables so far has not led to a significant number of jobs or supply chain opportunities retained in Scotland.”
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