Scotland’s biggest conservation charities have called for an overhaul of the planning system, citing fears that Scotland’s government is too biased towards wind energy. Alarmed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s ambitions for even more wind farms in Scotland, they have urged her to adopt an “evidence based approach”.
Ms Sturgeon yesterday called on Westminster to “cement the growth” of the wind energy industry by further investing in off-shore wind. Scotland already has more than 4,300 turbines built or approved, but Scottish ministers described a decision by energy secretary Ed Davey to approve eleven new wind farms in Scotland “very disappointing”, arguing that it was too few.
This fervent zeal for wind farms has alarmed environmental campaigners north of the border, who want some areas to remain “sacrosanct”. National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Ramblers Scotland and six other campaign groups, representing more than 400,000 members, have attacked Ms Sturgeon in a letter to the Times, in which they said: “If we are to rebuild public confidence in the planning process and in the objectivity of Scottish ministers responsible for making such decisions, then we must find a way to demonstrate absolute transparency, impartiality and fairness.
“We propose that fresh impetus be given to revisiting the current planning system . . . potentially through the creation of a body or process that is truly independent of government. The goal would be to ensure clear, neutral adjudication over controversial planning applications where there could be significant impact on important landscapes, natural heritage interests or local communities.”
Under Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor, Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist Party committed itself to generating the equivalent of 100 percent of Scotland’s energy needs from renewable energy sources by 2020. Ms Sturgeon has shown no signs of reneging on this commitment, calling on Westminster to fund further projects.
During a ministerial visit to Whitelee in East Renfrewshire, Britain’s largest onshore wind farm, she said: “Onshore wind is now considerably cheaper than new nuclear thanks to sustained support and large-scale deployment of projects such as Whitelee. It is essential that the UK government provide confidence to the offshore wind industry that sufficient money will be available in future allocation rounds to allow the sector to move forward with assurance and enable costs to be further reduced.
“Without this ambition Scotland risks missing the opportunity to cement the growth of an industry, with significant supply chain benefits, while decarbonising our energy supply.”
But John Milne, co-ordinator of the Scottish Wild Land group, hit back at the SNP for not adopting an evidence based approach to energy, saying “the government says it is taking an ‘evidence-based approach’ to technologies like coal gassification. Why doesn’t it take an evidence-based approach to wind? We are very distressed at the damage that commercial farming on the scale proposed is doing to our wild land.
“There should be an independent energy commission established, free of vested interest, to determine the extent to which wind is a cost-effective means of reducing CO2 emissions.”
Mr Milne highlighted a study by Aberdeen University which showed that building wind farms on pristine peat land could release more carbon, currently locked up in the peat, than it saves through wind technology.
John Mayhew, the director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, said: “There must be places which are sacrosanct. There must be places, onshore and offshore, where it is more important to look after the scenery and wildlife, than it is to have wind farms. I’m sure the first minister herself would say they can’t be built anywhere.”