Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Scotland, green energy clashes with the environment

By Jenna Miller
Copy edited and produced by Taylor Pool

As Scotland prepares to vote on its independence from the United Kingdom, the country is also seeking another type of independence.  The Scottish government has set an ambitious goal of generating 100 percent of its annual energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

“Scotland has a full range of renewable technology at its disposal in terms of onshore wind, offshore wind, and wave energy,” a spokesperson for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Scotland said. “It will drive investment to Scotland and it’s well within our grasp.”  The spokesperson said, although ambitious, reaching that 100 percent goal is definitely achievable.  Though squabbles over certain renewable technologies could put the brakes on that goal.

Renewable energy is essentially thought of as an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.  For some people in Scotland, however, the grass isn’t greener on the other side.  As Scotland pushes for more onshore wind farms, there is growing opposition from an unexpected quarter: environmental groups themselves.

Environmental groups take action
A proposal for a wind farm on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park was recently rejected by both the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Highland Council. Backlash over the location of the farm is just a small echo in a larger debate over onshore wind.

“The occasional turbine’s okay but wind farms are really industrial complexes and there’s really no place for that in a national park,” Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP) Chairman Bill McDermott said. 

McDermott says industrial wind farms, whether within park boundaries or not, would ruin the landscape of Scotland – a country known for its picturesque mountains, hills, and lochs. The turbines themselves would blemish the natural complexion of Scotland’s wild lands, while essentially virgin hillsides would be turned into access roads for wind farms.  

“If you’re putting in a wind farm and to create that wind farm you’re putting in miles and miles of road surfaces, you’re digging out masses of [hill] peaks,” McDermott said. “The developers just come along and they ask for wind farms in the most inappropriate places.”

The access tracks can be anywhere from 18 to 21 feet wide and are visible from long distances. McDermott also says, while wind farms are supposed to decrease carbon emissions, digging up peaks and laying down access road obliterates carbon storage.  Wind farms also require “back up” electricity for days when the wind doesn’t blow quite right. Between construction, access roads, and back up generators, wind farms often actually produce a slight increase in carbon dioxide.

“We shouldn’t be having anymore large-scale wind farms in the hills of Scotland. It’s as basic as that,” McDermott said.
Matthew Hawkins, Senior Officer of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, says ruining the landscape has the girth to dramatically hurt Scotland’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry.  Over the last decade, wind farms have been sprouting up across the country decreasing the size of Scotland’s untouched wild land.  Hawkins fears those turbines may deter tourists who seek wild refuge.

“One of the important features of the Cairngorms National Park and Scotland is the sense of wildness…people come here to seek a sort of wild land experience,” according to Hawkins.  “Turbines by their very nature are visible from a long direction and that can spoil that sense of wildness if they can see manmade features.”

Turbines risk environment and human safety
People are not the only ones put off by turbines.  Hawkins said wind farms disturb habitat for many of Scotland’s wildlife, especially raptor and bird species.  

“What tends to happen with wind farms is that eagles tend to avoid them and so the area around them, which otherwise should be very suitable habitat, is not available because they tend to keep away,” Hawkins said. Wind farms are also creeping up on human habitat as well. Communities Against Turbines Scotland (CATS) formed after local residents became fed up with the construction of local industrial wind farms.

“A lot of the rural communities here are finding that lots of wind farms are being set up on their doorsteps,” Kim Terry of CATS said.

Terry said residents get almost no say in whether a turbine becomes their newest neighbor.

“Local democracy is trampled upon. Even if a wind farm may have gone to council and through public appeals and public inquiry – and everybody’s turned it down – the Scottish government can approve it anyway,” Terry said.
Turbines also pose health and safety risks for anyone living nearby.  Terry says the pulsating noise characteristic of turbines can be more intrusive than other common types of noise pollution.  The pulsation noise includes both audible and inaudible, such as infrasound and vibration.  Exposure to infrasound can potentially cause serious neurological problems, such as vibroacoustic disease. 

“Flicker” is another phenomenon of wind turbines.  Flicker occurs when the sun hits individual blades causing a strobe light effect.  The most severe risk associated with flicker is seizure.  Other less severe risks include balance, nausea, and disorientation.

McDermott, Hawkins, and Terry all support the principle of renewable energy and onshore wind. They just don’t support where these projects are being proposed - too close to town and not far enough away from wild lands.  They all agree that each onshore wind farm proposal must be carefully scrutinized to protect Scottish land.

“We have a responsibility to conserve our natural and cultural heritage,” Hawkins said.  

Balance between wind, solar, hydro and wave is the key to tackling climate change.  But they all agree that more planning and research is needed to sustainably meet Scotland’s renewable energy goal. 

“We have to do something to stop the use of fossil fuels,” McDermott said. “The difficulty is that you can’t do it at the same time as trashing our environment in other ways.”

WWF Scotland also feels torn in two directions, but ultimately says preventing rapid climate change is imperative. 

“It’s vitally important for Scotland and the world to de-carbonize,” a spokesperson said. “And we look at renewable technology as an essential part of tackling dangerous climate change.”

1 comment:

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