Wind Farm Update

Brian Heaton

Despite indications earlier in the year that there was going to be some movement on new and existing wind farm applications that would be of direct interest to the North East Mountain Trust (NEMT) nothing has transpired. However, a new proposal has been submitted to Highland Council for a wind farm on the Sallachy estate on open moorland sloping down to Loch Shin. A previous application was refused by Scottish Ministers in 2015 because of impacts on wild land and the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area. The new application is for fewer turbines but they are some 25m taller. This Area is not one that the NEMT raises issues about but other bodies, the Scottish Mountaineering Council and the John Muir Trust (JMT), have. Full copies of their letters of objection can be seen on their respective web sites.

When the NEMT objects to wind farm proposals the main substances of our objections are on the visual impact of the turbines and the effect of the tracks that have to be laid down in terms of visual impact and potentially opening up easy access into wild areas. Two areas of concern in the JMT letter we have not raised in the past, which some members of the NEMT may have strong opinions on, are outlined below and if members would like to pass their opinions on them to the NEMT trustees we could take them into account in the future.

The first area is the amount of renewable energy that should be produced in Scotland. In Scotland wind turbines are clearly the best option for the production of renewable energy. Amortising the carbon cost (production and operation) over the lifetime of the production equipment, wind power is quoted as currently producing approximately 11 g of Carbon Dioxide emission/kWh, solar power approximately 44g/kWh, natural gas approximately 450g/kWh and coal approximately 1000 g/kWh. The new, enormous offshore wind turbines are predicted to be as low as 6 g/kWh (nuclear power is 9 g/kWh but has other problems). In all categories there are examples of lower and higher production figures but the above allow a broad comparison to be made. The recent energy statistics issued by the Scottish Government indicate that approximately 96% of generated electricity is generated by renewable sources. Onshore wind capacity is approximately 8.5 GW with a further 4.5 GW already consented and an additional 4 GW in planning. New offshore wind farm applications would raise this further. There is clearly already sufficient capacity in place/planned to supply Scotland’s needs and export a surplus to England. However, the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is paramount. Do members of NEMT feel that there are any circumstances when a further increase in this over capacity for Scotland’s needs, to just be exported, should be considered in objections to a new development in the areas of concern to the NEMT.

The second area concerns the impact wind farm construction can have on peat lands. New applications do have to carry out an environmental impact assessment which includes peat. The role of peat in sequestering carbon has recently been highlighted. The potential impact of peat excavation is detailed in the letter of objection submitted by the JMT referred to previously. In the Sallachy proposal the construction of only 9 turbines with associated tracks is estimated to require the extraction of 61,500 m3 of peat. This they identify as being peat excavation on a commercial scale resulting in severe disruption to the peatland slopes. Simply putting excavated peat back does not restore its sequestering capacity. The turbine foundations and associated tracks can significantly change the drainage profile of the area resulting in a drying out. This allows the trapped carbon to be oxidised and released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A review of the “Life cycle costs and carbon emissions of wind power” by Thompson and Harrison of Edinburgh University commissioned by ClimateXChange, the Scottish Government funded advisory centre on climate change, can be downloaded from the web. This paper strongly supports onshore wind farms but draws attention several times to the problems associated with wind farms in deep peat areas which could effectively negate their carbon dioxide emission saving capacity. Again, do members think this is an area that the NEMT should start to consider as grounds for objection? Please contact us at!

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