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Green triumph, or tilting at windmills?

If newspaper letters pages and protest marches were an accurate reflection of general public feeling, a remarkably large percentage of the population is against wind farms.

BRITAIN'S biggest wind farm was opened officially yesterday at Black Law - 42 turbines turning out enough electricity on bleak Lanarkshire moorland, as they have for the past few months, to supply 55,000 homes.

Soon, 12 more will be completed to supply a further 15,000 Central Belt homes.

For Nicol Stephen, the deputy first minister, battling to be heard against a 50mph wind gusting across the former opencast coal mine, it was a significant step towards the Executive's target of generating 18 per cent of Scotland's energy from renewable resources by 2010.

Many don't agree. For anti-wind farm campaigners, Black Law is not a significant step, more a stupendous waste of public money on an inefficient, unreliable source of energy - even if the most ardent protesters cannot call 100-metre turbines at this particular location a blot on the landscape.

If newspaper letters pages and protest marches were an accurate reflection of general public feeling, a remarkably large percentage of the population is against wind farms.

Every proposal so far for one anywhere in Scotland has produced a "not in my backyard" protest. Some are more understandable than others - Penicuik, Moray, Milnathort. But blots on the landscape... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
BRITAIN'S biggest wind farm was opened officially yesterday at Black Law - 42 turbines turning out enough electricity on bleak Lanarkshire moorland, as they have for the past few months, to supply 55,000 homes.

Soon, 12 more will be completed to supply a further 15,000 Central Belt homes.

For Nicol Stephen, the deputy first minister, battling to be heard against a 50mph wind gusting across the former opencast coal mine, it was a significant step towards the Executive's target of generating 18 per cent of Scotland's energy from renewable resources by 2010.

Many don't agree. For anti-wind farm campaigners, Black Law is not a significant step, more a stupendous waste of public money on an inefficient, unreliable source of energy - even if the most ardent protesters cannot call 100-metre turbines at this particular location a blot on the landscape.

If newspaper letters pages and protest marches were an accurate reflection of general public feeling, a remarkably large percentage of the population is against wind farms.

Every proposal so far for one anywhere in Scotland has produced a "not in my backyard" protest. Some are more understandable than others - Penicuik, Moray, Milnathort. But blots on the landscape on Soutra, Black Law, Eaglesham Moor and Lewis?

The Executive's view is unequivocal, and Mr Stephen repeated it yesterday at Black Law. "This conservation award-winning project has helped regenerate a landscape, transforming an old open-cast coalmine into a development providing clean, renewable energy," he said.

It symbolised the Executive's determination to make Scotland "a powerhouse of renewable energy", with 18 per cent of electricity generated to come from renewable sources by the end of this decade and 40 per cent by 2020.

He could be right, but for anyone not directly involved - journalists very much included - the scientific and economic arguments about wind farms have become a minefield.

The blot-on-the-landscape argument is straightforward. Some of us like the streamlined shape and easy action of a giant turbine, thinking how much better the view from the A68 over Soutra has become since the wind farm appeared.

Others dislike them, dismissing each one as an aesthetic excrescence that will upset millions of tourists, as well as the locals who have to live beside them.

The problem is that economic and scientific arguments about wind farms are now conducted on similar subjective lines. Those in favour produce figures to back their case. Those against refute them with statistics and percentages which sound almost as plausible. Our letters page almost any day will produce examples of both, and the anorak pedantry count is high. The Executive has tried, cleverly or naively it is hard to say, with its website of "Ten myths explained". Such as: Wind farms are unpopular. Not so, it says - 90 per cent of the public believe the government should encourage the use of renewable energy and 80 per cent support plans to significantly increase the number of turbines; 66 per cent would approve of a new wind farm in their area.

Wind farms, it claims, do not keep tourists away. Many have become tourist attractions. Nor do they cause health problems, slash house prices or kill birds. They do produce a lot of power, help reduce climate change and projects are not forced through against the will of the people.

ScottishPower, with plans to invest £1 billion in producing 10 per cent of its output from renewables within five years, is optimistic that will be achieved. Black Law, with 54 turbines, is one step. Plans for 140 turbines on Eaglesham Moor, within two years if Executive approval is granted, is the next.

Amec still hopes to build the biggest wind farm in Europe on Lewis. Bob Graham, the chairman of Highlands Against Wind Farms - "I know enough about this subject to silence anyone" - is not convinced by any of these claims.

He said yesterday: "We have moved on from the blot-on-the-landscape argument - although they are. Our main argument now is that wind farms are meaningless and do not solve the energy problem. Without a subsidy from government, [which, he says, is £50 per megawatt hour], wind farms would be uneconomic.

"These companies are just in it for the subsidy. They get their investment back in five years or sell off at a massive profit."

Campaigners call wind turbines green totem poles, he said. Enthusiasts for them might know some of the science, but have no grasp of the maths.

Take the turbines in the Moray Firth area, from Wick to Aberdeen, that have been built, are being built, or are in the planning system, he said.

There are 800, varying in height from 200ft to 500ft. Average output from all 800 would be about 480 megawatts. Peterhead Power Station alone produces more than 1,530Mw.

There have also been appalling knock-on effects, including the contentious Beauly to Denny power line, he said. Cables to carry power will need a new line of about 600 much bigger pylons up to 210ft high.

Proposals for that have already produced a protest march. It was backed, in principle if not in body, by members of Stirling Before Pylons, the Sma' Glen Community, Cairngorm Revolt Against Pylons, Communities Against Pylons, Pylon Pressure and Beauly, Kiltarlity and Kirkhill community councils.

That's a lot of local feeling, and Executive resistance to it would be laughable if it were not so serious, Mr Graham said.

He said the only reason for the Beauly to Denny upgrade, and plans by the same company to upgrade the main grid inter-connector between Cumbria and Scotland, was to cope with all the applications for wind farms.

In short, he said, Highland and Aberdeenshire councils will destroy much of the Moray Firth's landscapes and seascapes to produce about one-third of the output of Peterhead Power Station, and might reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 0.007 per cent.

It sounds like a clinching argument. However, it will be a surprise if there is not an equally convincing counter already in the post.

Source: http://news.scotsman.com/sc...

JAN 16 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/983-green-triumph-or-tilting-at-windmills
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