Pressure builds on Scottish wind farms

Calls for tighter planning guidance and a moratorium on wind power schemes were aired in the Scottish Parliament in November. The debate exposed tensions about visual impact and a lack of economic benefits for communities near wind farms.

The Scottish Executive has set ambitious targets for renewable energy (ENDS Report 339, pp 48-49 ), and applications for wind farms in Scotland have been flooding in. But a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 6 November confirmed that opposition to the industry is also gathering steam.

Murdo Fraser (Con, Mid Scotland and Fife) introduced a motion calling for a moratorium on all wind farm proposals which are subject to any local opposition. It said that the current planning regime provides "inadequate guidance" on the siting of wind farms, and called on the Executive to draw up new guidance.

Mr Fraser is a member of Parliament's Enterprise and Culture Committee which will commence an inquiry into wind farms in January. "The cumulative effect of all the developments that are being proposed in Scotland, if they are allowed to proceed, would be the most significant change in our landscape in several generations," he said.

However, several MSPs opposed a moratorium. Alasdair Morrison (Lab, Western Isles) said it would be "lunacy", and argued: "We need urgently to speed up the process rather than bring it to a dead halt."

George Lyon (LibDem, Argyll and Bute) emphasised that Scotland has 1,200 jobs that are dependent on the wind industry, including 200 at Vestas-Celtic Wind Technology's assembly plant in his constituency. These workers "would be appalled by the prospect of a moratorium and the shutting down or pulling out of Vestas-Celtic from the area."

However, Rob Gibson (SNP, Highlands and Islands) said that many protestors were frustrated that large companies from outside their region were making large profits. He advocated planned development of renewables which could provide the Highlands and Islands with a "tremendous income" to invest in local economic development.

Jamie McGrigor (Con, Highlands and Islands) said that wind power was expensive and "unavoidably makes an unacceptable intrusion into the landscape." Many applications were for 27 turbines, he noted - just enough to exceed the 50MW threshold above which planning permission is decided by the Executive rather than local councils. The Executive is currently considering applications for 12 schemes above this threshold.

Lewis Macdonald, Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, argued that supporters of the motion were "not giving our planning framework the credit that it deserves." Scottish planning guidance on renewables was reviewed only three years ago, he noted, and a planning advisory note was revisited only last year.

Mr Macdonald said that councils can use their structure and local plans to define broad areas where renewables are favoured or disfavoured - citing Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling and Fife as examples. Alternatively, councils can lay down criteria by which applications would be judged, as Argyll and Bute has done.

Fewer than 10% of applications going through the system in the past five years have failed, Mr Macdonald said. "If we get the policy framework and the infrastructure right, the industry could be worth more than £1 billion a year and provide over 20,000 Scottish jobs by 2020."

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