SNP plans to more than double Scotland’s onshore wind capacity ignore the damage that would be caused to rural areas already “saturated” with turbines, communities and planners have warned ministers.
Respondents to a Scottish Government consultation on the proposal criticised the “lack of mention of the adverse impacts” on the countryside, including “visual, landscape, cultural heritage, and environmental issues”.
A “large minority” of those who responded, signifying between 25 per cent and 50 per cent, cited concerns over areas such as Aberdeenshire being unable to accommodate any more turbines.
The group, which included council planners and community organisations, questioned whether there was enough “unconstrained” rural land available in Scotland for such a huge expansion in wind output.
They warned that the plan risked damaging tourism and argued that more turbines should instead be built close to cities and towns with high electricity demand.
Concerns energy bills will surge even more
With SNP ministers refusing to build a new generation of nuclear power stations, they also raised concerns about domestic energy bills surging even more and “a lack of base load or back up power” when the wind was not blowing.
But some wind farm companies argued that greater numbers of taller turbines should be built in Scotland’s forests, and they should even be permitted on “degraded” peatland.
The analysis said there was “consensus” in the renewables industry that planning restrictions should be relaxed “to cease prescribing turbine heights and not overprotect wild land and local landscapes”.
Scotland already has turbines theoretically capable of generating 8.4GW of power, well over half the UK’s total, but Nicola Sturgeon’s government wants to add a further 8-12GW.
The consultation, launched in October last year, said that ministers recognise that meeting climate change targets requires “decisive action, will change how Scotland looks and… we will need to deploy significant volumes of onshore wind generation over the next decade”.
It said this will mean using modern, more efficient technology and “taller turbines”. This includes replacing existing turbines that may be coming to the end of their working life with even taller and larger versions, a process called “repowering”.
‘Places like ours already have enough’
But Ashley Smith, of campaign group No Ring of Steel, said: “Areas like ours in this part of the Highlands are at saturation point. People are fighting hard against these ongoing developments, but it is difficult in the face of an onslaught of applications.
“We agree that wind farms have a place in a mixed energy approach, but places like ours in the Highlands already have enough. It’s time to push back and make it clear that other solutions must also be pursued.”
An analysis of the 160 responses, which included 43 from renewable energy companies, cited wind farm industry concerns that a lack of financing and barriers created by the planning system would make the target difficult to achieve.
But a large minority accused the consultation of ignoring the drawbacks of the huge expansion and “significant numbers” of respondents complained there was ” too much bias in favour of onshore wind and that other ways of meeting climate change targets were being ignored”.
Instead of placing so much emphasis on increasing the number of onshore turbines, they argued the SNP should combine them with a mix of “offshore wind, tidal, wave, hydro, battery storage, green hydrogen and energy saving methods”.
The analysis also listed a series of concerns made “mostly by a large minority comprising mainly local authorities and planners, individuals, communities’ organisations and lobby and interest groups”.
Not enough unconstrained land available, SNP warned
These included warnings of “some areas becoming saturated with onshore wind farms (e.g. Aberdeenshire) with suggestions to try to locate more wind farms close to areas of high electricity consumption.”
They also warned that there was “not enough unconstrained land available to meet targets because of factors including aviation, MoD sites, grid access, environmental constraints, landscape, designated Wild Land areas and industrial use policy”.
On repowering existing wind farms, a “significant minority” of respondents – signifying between 10 and 25 per cent – expressed concerns about “environmental and visual impacts, noise and shadow flicker all being exacerbated by the presence of larger turbines”.
But a “large minority of mostly renewable energy respondents” argued that taller turbines being erected in forests were “a sensible solution” and they will “generally become the norm”.
Liam Kerr, the Scottish Tories’ shadow net zero secretary, said: “Concerns about the impact on tourism, landscape, environmental and wildlife protection must be heard. Onshore wind is one useful part of a balanced energy policy, not the only solution.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective forms of large-scale electricity generation and also one of the cheapest forms of electricity, making it vital to Scotland’s future energy mix as we transition to a net-zero economy.”
He added: “The responses and consultation analysis will help inform our final Onshore Wind Policy Statement, which we intend to publish by the end of the year.”
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