Scottish countryside watchdog warns of windfarms 'backlash'

Scotland is in danger of being "swamped" by inappropriate windfarms, official wildlife and countryside group Scottish Natural Heritage has told an inquiry in the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland has been at the forefront of renewables development since the renewables obligation was introduced in 2002. Last year, the Scottish Executive signalled long-term support for the industry by setting a demanding target for 2020 (ENDS Report 339, pp 48-49 ).

Several small hydro proposals have since come forward, but they have been dwarfed by applications for onshore wind schemes. In recent months, approval has been given to a 130MW Scottish and Southern Energy windfarm in Ayrshire and a 143MW Scottish Power development in Lanarkshire - the biggest consented UK windfarm to date.

However, there is growing resistance to further windfarms north of the border. In a debate in November, MSPs voiced concerns that the planning system was giving inadequate guidance on windfarm siting, and that economic benefits were not going to the communities most affected (ENDS Report 346, pp 39-40 ).

Scottish Natural Heritage, the statutory wildlife and landscape protection agency, has now raised similar concerns before an inquiry into renewables by the Scottish Parliament's Enterprise and Culture Committee.

Inappropriate windfarm development "could provoke a public backlash that would make the Executive's targets much harder to achieve," said director of operations and strategy John Thompson. "An overwhelming number" of onshore windfarm proposals mean that Scotland is "in danger of being swamped".

In written evidence, SNH says that windfarms could cause "the single most significant transformation of Scotland's landscapes in at least half a century."

"The high quality of Scotland's environment should not be eroded in order to avoid corresponding impacts elsewhere in the UK," it says. SNH believes that Scotland should accommodate less than half of all renewables development in the UK, although it should contribute "more than just a pro rata share."

SNH wants to restrict onshore wind to less than two-thirds of Scottish renewables output in 2020 and proposes indicative regional targets stipulating how much onshore wind Scottish local authorities might be expected to accommodate. It is also concerned that reinforcement of electricity networks to accommodate renewables has begun without strategic consideration of the environmental impacts.

The Committee also heard from local campaigners opposing wind developments in the Borders, Moray, Skye and Argyll. Christine Grahame, Scottish Nationalist MSP for southern Scotland, presented a petition against a proposal by Amec for 14 turbines near the Southern Upland Way. There are currently two windfarms in the Scottish Borders but about 45 applications have now been lodged, she said.

Alison Hay from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities told the Committee that opposition to wind across Scotland is patchy, and often results from the "funnelling of a lot of developments into particular areas".

  • The Committee also heard energy regulator Ofgem repeat its criticism of the Government's plan to exempt renewables generators in remote areas of Scotland from the grid charges they pay to transmit their output to centres of demand. The argument between Ofgem and the Department of Trade and Industry has been running for a year (ENDS Report 337, p 45 ).

    In February, the Government signalled that it is considering an amendment to the Energy Bill to enable the Secretary of State to define the level of the discount and the areas where it will be available. The DTI will consult on these details in the autumn.

    Zonal transmission charges could particularly affect wave and tidal stream developers - who have little choice but to locate in remote areas where the marine energy resources are greatest - and make Scotland less attractive for onshore wind.

    Ofgem told the Committee that the Government will not achieve its aim of a low carbon economy if transmission charges are not cost-reflective. "If additional support for renewables is necessary then Ofgem considers that this should be provided through the renewables obligation," it argued.

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