The Angry Corrie 57: Apr-Jun 2003

Blow by blow - two differing views on windfarms

I WAS PLEASED to see TAC's attempt to start a debate on windfarms (TAC54, p3). As I work in the wind industry - for Garrad Hassan in Glasgow - I decided not to write in until I saw what concerns were expressed. It was therefore disappointing to find only one letter on the subject in TAC55, from John Bainbridge. However, at least this was an anti-windfarm letter, so there's a hope of sparking a correspondence on this important issue.

Mr Bainbridge makes four basic points.

Firstly, he states that windfarms produce an insignificant amount of energy. This is misleading: government targets are for 10% of UK electricity to come from renewable energy by 2010, of which a large proportion is generally expected to be from onshore windfarms. In Scotland, renewables are expected to contribute around 18% of Scotland's electricity consumption by 2010, with further production for export to England. Again, much of this is expected to be onshore wind. Continuing expansion is foreseen post-2010.

To give some idea of the land required, about 10% of the UK's electricity could be generated from an area the size of Arran (not that anyone's proposing to cover Arran). The resource is available to make a major contribution to UK electricity demand and CO2 reduction targets.

Mr Bainbridge's second point is cost. The cost of wind energy continues to fall, below that of nuclear and coal, but is still generally higher than new gas generation. In addition, as wind penetration in the electricity system increases, there will be additional "system" costs that are not yet properly understood or quantified. So wind costs more than the absolute cheapest form of generation, and this cost is paid by all electricity consumers. Whether you call this a subsidy, or an efficient use of market mechanisms to achieve national objectives, depends on your point of view. Mr Bainbridge should note that the payment mechanism does not favour wind: it favours the cheapest way of generating electricity without CO2. If tidal stream devices can do this, they will get built.

This leads to Mr Bainbridge's third point: energy conservation is cheaper than wind, and should therefore get the support. Government policy is moving in that direction, and I strongly support greater efforts to encourage energy conservation. But energy conservation and renewable sources should not be seen as competing: both are necessary to get our CO2 emissions down as rapidly as possible.

Fourthly, he complains of noise and visual intrusion. Noise is really no longer an issue. It is well understood, quantifiable and calculable. If a windfarm breaches its planning conditions, including the noise limits, then it can be shut down. The conclusion from public attitude surveys is that people generally become more in favour of windfarms when they have seen one.

I'll close by listing four points of my own that I feel the hillwalking public should be discussing:

  1. "Visual influence" is a fact, and people's impressions of windfarms (industrial intrusion or elegant sculptures) are subjective and equally valid. Will a windfarm, or the cumulative impact of several in an area, affect the landscape so significantly that the national environmental and local economic benefits are outweighed? We need to think about what constitutes "our finest landscapes". Anywhere with a summit? Anywhere you can see from a summit? Anywhere you can't see a house or a road?
  2. Should the concerns of some visitors to an area, perhaps frequent visitors, outweigh the benefits to the local economy? (Site rental income can provide a major increase in income for a hill farmer, and still leave 99% of the land for agriculture.)
  3. If Scotland becomes a major exporter of green power to England, as is likely, is this a valuable export for the Scottish economy, especially the rural economy? Or is it economic imperialism by vested interests south of the border, by which England meets its emissions obligations while keeping the disadvantages out of sight and out of mind?
  4. Should we just decide to pay even more for electricity and require all national targets to be met by "invisible" technologies such as far-offshore windfarms, wave farms and tidal stream devices?

Paul Gardner

image from TAC57

IN THE COURSE of Doing the Donalds, I've recently climbed two hills with windfarms. TAC54 and TAC55 raised concerns about these, and quite rightly. For although they are of elegantly simple design and are greenhouse-benign, two hills flying them might be a novelty whereas more would be an unwelcome crowd.

My first encounter was on Bowbeat Hill, a Donald tucked in behind others so that the windfarm isn't visible until up on neighbouring Dundreich. On a gentle October day the turbines purred like cats as we passed by them, glad to use the connecting access road to avoid the horrible Moorfoot peat hags. The farm was so new that workmen and their German-registered vans were still on site.

One month later, Windy Standard's collection of 34 giants made a steady roar as I approached them on a breezy day, pulsing like cars on a motorway from half a mile away. I met a local runner who told me there had been a very short interval between him meeting some coy surveyors on the hill and the entire farm having been erected on his next run. As with Bowbeat, access is eased by the network of forest roads that lead to within metres of the plateau.

Given the ease of access to high ground in much of the Borders, and landowners' happiness to accept rental money without having to sweat, I contend that these lovely rolling skylines are in danger. Much of the lower ground is already festooned with phone masts: the higher ground could be in more serious danger.

Peter Drummond

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