Digging up peat bogs and felling trees to build turbines releases 4.9m tons CO₂.
Some of Scotland’s wind turbines create so much carbon pollution it will take a decade to repair the environmental damage caused, say researchers.
Around 4.9 million tons of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere as a result of digging up ancient peat bogs and felling trees to build wind farms.
Aberdeen University scientists claim many wind farms remain years away from generating enough renewable electricity to cancel out the deficit – and say they are as damaging for the planet as burning coal or gas.
Turbines are a cornerstone of the SNP’s drive to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045. But the study shows the environmental toll of damaging delicate ecosystems.
Disturbing soils and forestry unlocks massive amounts of carbon that has been shut away for centuries.
The Aberdeen researchers calculated the carbon footprints of the 3,848 commercial onshore wind turbines in Scotland in 2019.
The wind farms’ carbon emissions were then balanced against the amount of fossil fuels they are substituting. From there, their carbon ‘payback’ was calculated, with some facilities taking as long as 10.8 years to wipe the slate clean in terms of the environmental damage created.
The academics’ paper, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, concludes: ‘In the worst land-use change scenario, the data is comparable to the lifecycle emissions of fossil fuel technologies such as coal and gas-fired electricity generation.’ Garth Wind Farm on Yell, Shetland, began operating in 2017 but it will be at least 2028 before it stops being a net producer of carbon dioxide.
The university team found 60 wind farms built on peatland produced as much CO₂-equivalent emissions as two million tons of coal.
These super-emitters include Middle Muir, Lanarkshire; Loch Sminig on Lewis; Bad a Cheo, Caithness; and Knockman Hill, Kirkcudbrightshire.
The giant Clyde wind farm near Abington, Lanarkshire, was alone responsible for 480,000 tons of CO₂.
Last night, Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Liam Kerr said ‘This report shows why SNP-Green Ministers must start striking the right balance when it comes to Scotland’s energy needs.
‘They are taking a misguided approach by ruling out nuclear developments as well as failing to stand up for our oil and gas industry, threatening jobs and jeopardising emissions targets in the process.’
Graham Lang, of campaign group Scotland Against Spin, said: ‘Building turbines on undeveloped peatland should not even be considered. Holyrood is aware of payback calculations. This should be set out in a planning application so decision-makers can take account of the years it takes to recover the carbon created in the wind farms’ construction.’
Last year the Scottish Government announced plans to double onshore wind capacity but did not rule out more turbines being sited in places that will create lengthy carbon payback times.
A Government spokesman said: ‘Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective forms of large-scale electricity generation, making it vital to Scotland’s future energy mix.
‘In a net zero world, it is counterproductive to care more about where generation is situated than what type of generation it is.’
He added: ‘Our draft National Planning Framework includes policies covering green energy and peat and carbon-rich soils, which aim to strike a balance in protecting natural resources whilst meeting emissionreductions targets.’
A North Yell Development Council spokesman said: ‘When Garth Wind Farm was at the planning stage, we used the Scottish Government template for calculating the carbon payback time. This gave a much shorter payback than the latest figures.’
‘Ministers are taking a misguided approach’
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