Scotland has recently seen the opening of Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, switched on by the First Minister, Alex Salmond on 20th May. The £300 million wind farm at Whitelee is situated on the Eaglesham Moor in East Renfrewshire and consists of 140 turbines. Alex Salmond announced that Whitelee will be expanded even further with the addition of another 30 or 40 giant turbines. This is only the latest in a rash of ugly metal towers that are now dotting our once pristine landscape from Shetland to Gretna.
Renewable energy is important not only for jobs and investment but for the role it plays in our effort to cut CO2 emissions and reach the targets set by the EU and by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government has set a target of 50 per cent of Scotland’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. The European Parliament’s Climate and Energy Package targets by 2020 include: a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency and a 20 per cent share for renewables in the EU energy mix. If we continue to rely on fossil fuels as our main energy source we will exacerbate world poverty, face huge increases in global temperatures, create freak weather conditions and cause sea levels to rise by over one metre, condemning tens of millions to death.
With this in mind, there are plans to develop 6 wind farms on the remote Dava Moor near Grantown-on-Spey, leading to the construction cumulatively of over 100 giant turbines. The power companies claim that this is a positive proposal in the fight to protect the environment and generate renewable energy.
But renewable energy projects must be carefully planned and implemented and must be part of a coordinated package aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. We cannot simply rush headlong into granting approval to wind farms from one end of Scotland to the other. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we need to restore ecosystems and place a value on the ecosystem services provided by our forests, peat bogs, rivers, oceans and soils. We need to pursue a rigorous plan of habitat recovery, delivering environmental improvements, including conservation of biodiversity, water and soil.
The proposed sites at Dava Moor represent yet another ill-considered nail in the coffin for Scotland’s unspoiled landscape heritage and will lead to the wanton destruction of a spectacular wilderness site and its transformation into an industrial wasteland. One of the proposed wind farm sites at Dunearn, is a native woodland site, planted only ten years ago with Caledonian pine at a cost to the taxpayer of £250,000. The forest was supposed to last forever, but now instead it will be destroyed to make way for a wind farm, also paid for by the taxpayer.
This is bad enough and a clear waste of taxpayer’s money, but the Scottish Government seems to have brushed aside the fact that heather and trees sequester carbon. Peat contains 55 kg carbon/cubic metre. This is three times as much as a tropical rainforest. Forests and peat bogs are natural carbon sumps. Destroying them is like destroying our global air conditioning system. It is the Scottish equivalent of cutting down rain forests in the Amazon and it is unforgivable. We should not be destroying land that is already helping to reduce and capture our carbon footprint.
Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass all have a role to play and Scotland, with its lengthy coastline, cutting-edge technology and world-beating scientists can become a global leader. But any diverse energy basket aimed at reducing CO2 must include nuclear. It is sheer hypocrisy for the SNP government to use their planning powers to block the construction of new nuclear plants in Scotland, while relying on imports of nuclear generated electricity from our neighbours south of the border.
Furthermore the Scottish wind industry is currently struggling to reduce costs of electricity from 9p to 8p per unit. In France the price of nuclear generated electricity is 1.7p per unit and is virtually CO2 emission free. So we are rushing headlong into a situation where we will be relying on hugelyÂ expensive electricity from renewable sources for most of our energy in Scotland, meanwhile causing terrible damage to our ecosystem and landscape. And what happens when the wind isn’t blowing, or when it’s blowing too hard and the turbines have to be switched off to avoid damage? Where will our base-load backup electricity come from then?
The message should be clear. If planning consent is granted to any of the six wind farms at Dava Moor, the impact will be catastrophic. It will release massive quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere and disturb the fragile ecosystem and hydrology of the lower regions of the Findhorn River. This fabulous part of our Scottish landscape heritage, home to capercaillies, golden eagles, ospreys, buzzards, red throated divers, lapwings, skylarks and ravens, will be permanently disfigured.
The recently reopened Grant Arms in Grantown, Spey on which £3 million was spent on a total makeover, provides a luxury haven for bird watchers and wild life enthusiasts. These visitors spend much of their time watching the wide diversity of birds and animals on Dava Moor. The owners of the hotel are appalled at the prospect of their investment being undermined due to the destruction of Dava Moor by wind farms. They are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wider damage that ill-conceived and badly planned windfarms will do to Scotland’s tourist industry.
The Scottish people need to stand up and fight to save these areas.
This article appeared in The Scotsman on 28th May.
Notes to Editors
1. Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP for Scotland. He is Vice President of the ruling EPP-ED Group and President of the Climate Change & Biodiversity Intergroup in the European Parliament. He is standing for re-election as one of Scotland’s six Euro MPs in the European elections on 4th June.
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28th May 2009