Scotland’s wild landscape is set to be hit by hundreds of super-wind turbines being proposed across the country that are up to four times the height of the original schemes.
The Herald on Sunday can reveal that there are at least 14 major wind farm proposals that have bypassed local authorities to go straight to the Scottish Government for consideration directly on account of their size with giant turbines ranging between 720 and 850 feet tall – the equivalent of over 60 double decker buses.
Environmental campaigners are outraged by the development warning that Scotland’s world-renowned scenery faces being “wrecked” by the projects and NatureScot, the Scottish Government’s landscape and wildlife watchdog has already begun to raise concerns.
Just two buildings in the UK would be taller than the largest of the new turbines both in London – the Shard and the skyscraper 22 Bishopsgate, also known as Twentytwo.
The biggest of the turbines will be more than four fifths the height of the Shard – the 72-storey skyscraper, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano which is the seventh-tallest building in Europe.
They will be twice the size of what is purported to be Scotland’s tallest freestanding structure, the 420ft high Glasgow Tower – the landmark which is part of the Glasgow Science Centre complex.
Some of the schemes are for “scoping” – where the developer submits an indicative bid to ministers before a formal application is revealed – and others are actual plans under consideration.
Details of the projects involve 245 wind turbines on planned wind farms spread across Scotland from the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire and Perth and Kinross to Argyll and Bute, Highlands and Aberdeenshire.
The new wave of super-turbines come as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last week there was a “clear imperative” to accelerate the clean energy transition and reduce Scotland’s dependence on oil and gas as the Scottish Government put forward a new strategy for the energy sector.
The Scottish government is proposing making the “fastest possible” transition away from oil and gas production with an energy strategy that prioritises an accelerated shift to increased wind and hydrogen development.
Ashley Smith, spokesman for the Highlands-based campaign group No Ring of Steel, said: “The Scottish Government has made it clear it wants to rush towards renewable energy.
“But that cannot come at the expense of Scotland’s world-renowned landscape, and a responsible balance has to be struck.
“The sheer size of this new generation of turbines is every bit as concerning as the number of them.
“People who are familiar with what windfarms in rural settings look like will not be prepared for this notable upscaling in size.
“Areas like ours in the Highlands cannot endure this level of transformation.
“These are unspoilt and world-renowned landscapes which risk being wrecked by this seemingly unabated development.
“They don’t just ruin the scenery, the damage the quality of life for people living here, jeopardise wildlife and fishing, and put off visitors from coming back.”
Scottish Renewables said that onshore wind is required to consider landscape issues and pointed out that the it supports more than 10,000 full time jobs and is worth £2.5 billion every year, and is vital to Scotland’s economy, as well as providing “local economic benefits to communities across the country.”
The first of Scotland’s rising tide of wind farms was the £85m Hadyard Hill Wind Farm is located in Carrick district of South Ayrshire and consists of turbines that are just 220ft tall.
The Scottish and Southern Energy Generation Ltd farm consisted of 52 three-bladed Siemens wind turbines and was Britain’s most powerful wind farm when it was commissioned in March 2006.
SSE Renewables’ Clyde Wind Farm, one of Europe’s biggest with 206 turbines near Abington in South Lanarkshire that are typically 260ft high. The first phase was officially opened by then First Minister Alex Salmond in September 2012.
The tallest of the new breed is a 20-turbine wind farm called Dunside with a height of 850 feet proposed by the French-owned EDF Renewables on moorland in the Lammermuir Hills, on land owned by Roxburghe Estates.
NatureScot has already warned that the pylons are likely to be greater than 330ft taller than adjacent Fallago Rig turbines. And it said the potential for “adverse landscape and visual effects in views of and the skyline that the Lammermuir hills form as appreciated from East Lothian should be a key design consideration”.
Before it went to Scottish Government consideration Scottish Borders Council officers said it was “significantly larger than any turbines in consented wind farms in the Scottish Borders to date”.
“The relationship between the size of the turbines and the scale of the receiving landscape will be a primary consideration,” they said.
EDF said that should the wind farm go ahead it would make an important contribution to helping Scotland achieve its 2045 net zero target.
The largest wind farms proposed with the tallest turbines is Eredine wind farm which is being scoped by RWE Renewables UK Developments. It is suggesting 26 turbines which will be over 750ft tall on a site between the quiet hamlets of Eredine and Furnace in Argyll and Bute, between Loch Awe to the west and Loch Fyne to the east.
NatureScot said that while supportive of renewable energy called for a reduction in the size and number of the turbines raising concerns about the impact in the area.
“The scale and location of this proposal is likely to result in widespread adverse effects; potentially significantly adversely affecting both the scenic Inner Loch Fyne area and part of the Loch Awe area. It will also introduce the effects of turbine lighting to this part of Argyll,” said NatureScot adding that it was located in a “very sensitive location which may give rise to natural heritage concerns which could prove difficult to overcome”.
The Ministry of Defence had raised initial concerns due to the “potential impact” to low flying aircraft operating in the development area.
The Scottish Government says the draft energy strategy has a “presumption against new exploration for oil and gas” and has called for stricter environmental tests to be applied to developing already licensed fields.
The proposal marks the SNP’s cleanest split yet with an oil and gas sector whose revenues were first plugged heavily in the 1970s in making early days of making the financial case for an independent Scotland.
In plugging the Scottish Government’s draft energy strategy, Ms Sturgeon said:“The current energy crisis has demonstrated how vulnerable our energy system is to international price shocks, while laying bare the need for structural reform to ensure affordability for consumers.
“This strategy will shape the next 25 years of energy production in Scotland.
“It provides an independent assessment of the future of the North Sea and shows that as we reduce Scotland’s dependence on oil and gas – as both generators and consumers – there is a huge environmental and economic opportunity to be seized.
“Scotland is already at the forefront of the clean energy transition and our green jobs revolution is underway.
“By continuing to make the most of our vast renewable energy resource, we can deliver a net zero energy system that also delivers a net gain in jobs within Scotland’s energy production sector.”
Michael Matheson, energy and climate secretary, said that while workers in the sector needed a “just transition”, projections for declining output in the UK North Sea meant the focus on renewables had to grow.
He said that independent research showed oil and gas output from Scottish waters would decline markedly in the coming years saying there was a low likelihood of significant new discoveries.
By 2035, output could fall to just one-third of 2019 levels and, by 2050, stand at only 3 per cent of the peak level in 1999, the Scottish Government said.
“The oil and gas industry has played an important role in our economy and has been part of our national identity for decades,” said Matheson. “[But] the previous policy position of maximum economic recovery is no longer appropriate.”
Scottish Renewables’ chief executive Claire Mack has said that meeting net-zero by 2045 will be “tough” but claims the renewables industry is already making strides.
But Offshore Energies UK, the industry body, while welcoming a “commitment to develop a Scottish hydrogen economy” was “concerned at the statement’s suggestion of accelerating the decline in oil and gas production”.
Mark Richardson, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “Wind power is the cheapest form of new energy generation and already plays a vital role in tackling climate change and providing the healthy, safe, clean environment we need to protect the planet for generations to come.
“While other countries can benefit from the deployment of use more modern, efficient turbines, Scotland’s planning system has meant we have often been left behind, using outdated smaller machines which can’t take full advantage of our high wind speeds. The result of those planning decisions is that more turbines are required in the landscape to provide the same amount of clean power, and that consumers end up paying more for their electricity.
“Developers of onshore wind farms are required to consider landscape issues when building new projects and spend many months, and in some cases years, continually monitoring the environment to identify potential impacts and working with statutory bodies and others to mitigate them.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We need bold action to tackle the climate emergency and Scotland has extensive renewable generation capabilities with which to accelerate the just transition to net zero. National Planning Framework 4, approved by the Scottish Parliament this week, will make sure the planning system enables the sustainable growth of the renewable sector while continuing to protect our most valued natural assets and cultural heritage.
“Scotland has some of the most stringent environmental impact regulations anywhere in the world and our planning and consenting system ensures that local communities can always have their say.”
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