Wind Farms; Feasible or Folly?

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by Mark McCann

If you live in Scotland, you can’t fail to notice our landscape is changing. Wind farms are everywhere you look, springing up almost overnight in remote glens or farmland.  They either instil awe and wonder or horror and disgust depending on your point of view.  I have been driven to write this because I have finally come down off the fence as to my opinion of them.

The catalyst was the recent proposal to build 3 wind farms outside Cromarty on the Black Isle.  Before she sadly passed away recently a philanthropic local farmer, Bright Gordon, invited an energy company to explore the feasibility of a wind farm on her land.  The result is a proposal to build 3 large turbines on the North East slopes of the Black Isle above Cromarty.

Bright Gordon’s enthusiasm for wind power is not shared by everyone.  At a local consultation recently it was met with stiff opposition from a small but vocal group who live nearby the proposed site.  Their concerns seem to be mirrored everywhere a wind farm is proposed, they range from noise pollution, concern for migrating birds, a devaluing of the scenery to a new claim of the effect of “blade flash”, where the sun reflecting off the rotating blades could cause disturbance and even aggravate epilepsy.  This group from around Davidson, a mile or so outside Cromarty, were also angry that they had not been notified earlier of the consultation, and this, I think is where the division starts.

The consultation was well advertised around Cromarty, on noticeboards, the local website and the local papers, yet the complainants were in the dark.  Why?  Although they live a mile from the village, they never visit Cromarty, they turn right instead of left and travel to Inverness or Fortrose for their provisions or work.  If it hadn’t been for this wind farm they might never have visited this charming village.  The benefit of this proposed wind farm is a guaranteed income of £30,000 per year for Cromarty.  The residents of Davidson, who never set foot in the place, cannot see the huge potential of this legacy that Ms Gordon has left the area.  All they see is a blight on the view that they moved there to enjoy.  This leads me to my next point.

South of Thurso in Caithness on the A9, there is a large wind farm.  The nearest turbine is 100 yards from the road.  I often stop there for a break before the long drive south.  The reason I stop there?  It’s peaceful.  The Flow Country stretches for miles before me and the view is lovely.  It’s also quiet.  Although the nearest turbine towers above me, I can only hear a muffled whoosh as the blades turn.

In my opinion they are beautiful, graceful, majestic structures that certainly don’t detract, in fact they offer a focal point in a featureless landscape.  “Ah!” I hear you cry, “Would you feel the same if they were on your doorstep?”  Well of course I wouldn’t but these structures are never built on anyone’s doorstep.  They are a minimum of 400 yards away from the nearest habitation.  I’m not going to get mired in the mantra that wind farm opposers across the country repeat like automatons, suffice to say that not one of their objections hold water.

There is also the recurring suspicion that the loudest objectors are people who have moved to the area for the scenic value.  They haven’t been brought up there, they have no memory of a changing, fluid landscape and community.  They moved there because it is beautiful and peaceful and they will fight to keep it exactly as it is.  They have no interest in the local community, they have no investment, no children.  They have moved there to spend their final years in a theme park.  They’re like New Yorkers moving to Florida to die.  I know that’s a generalisation, and probably wrong, but it is my experience of the most vocal objectors to any development in the Highlands.

Wind Farms; Feasible or Folly?

Wind farms aren’t perfect, they depend on a relatively constant wind, they are expensive to build, and put in the wrong place, they can alter a skyline for the worse.  So what are the alternatives?  A recent proposal to build a waste incinerator at Invergordon across the firth from Cromarty was met with huge opposition, there is no guarantee that the fumes would not cause health problems for those who are regularly exposed to them and the growing cruise ship tourism would surely suffer.

Invergordon is where recent tidal and wave generators are being assembled and there lies the real alternative to wind farms. The potential in tidal power is enormous and fortunately our forward thinking Scottish Government is doing everything in its limited power to encourage this industry.

Unfortunately, the UK Government has a different view.  They have a rather cosy arrangement with EDF, the French energy provider, to build several nuclear power stations to replace the ageing ones we have already.  Irritatingly for them, the SNP, and most of the Scottish people, are totally against nuclear power.  This is a serious problem, as Scotland would have been the ideal place to put these toxic leviathans.  If they went horribly wrong, fewer people would be displaced than if they were sited in densely populated England.

So quietly, the U.K. Government is chucking up offshore wind farms around the coastline, they would have preferred the nuclear option, and they still intend to build as many as they can get away with but without Scotland as a site, they have to diversify.

They have to because we all have to.

Every EU country signed up to a huge reduction in CO2 and they are all scrabbling to meet those targets, as the fines would be disastrous if they don’t.

That’s why there are wind farms everywhere you look in Scotland, we are actually one of the few countries that are on target to avoid those eyewatering CO2 penalties.  Yes, they may spoil your view but assuming tidal, wave and other alternative ways of producing power accelerate at the same speed they have been, we won’t need them for long.  They can be easily removed and the access roads will grow over quickly.  A nuclear power station, is a permanent and highly dangerous addition to the landscape.

Which would you prefer?