By Victoria Weldon Reporter
They are the polarising structures at the heart of the Scottish
Government’s plans for a cleaner, greener energy supply.
Wind turbines have long attracted controversy in Scotland, with some
arguing they are a blight on scenery and tourism as others hail them as a
symbol of the country’s progressive outlook on renewables.
That argument is now set to intensify as moves are being made to almost
double the size of turbines nearing the end of their lifespans, according
to a new report.
The plans have also prompted environmental concerns as it would cause
further disruption to Scotland’s peatland – which most turbines are built
on – damaging the soil’s vital carbon cutting resource.
Mountaineering Scotland said the move would “increase the visual impact”on
Scotland’s mountains and landscapes, and called for the “environmental and
aesthetic impact on the landscape” to be made a “key consideration”.
Environment Protection Scotland also said that the report, by researchers
at the Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen, raises questions over the
development of windfarm policy in Scotland.
Charity spokesman John Bynorth said: “Scotland’s peatlands have a powerful
natural role to play in slowing climate change through carbon capture and
everything must be done to prevent damage to this vital part of our
“Research by scientists has also found that even the ‘wake’ from wind
turbines can have an impact on air temperatures and humidity, impacting on
the temperature of soil and on the surface of soil – so it’s clear that
digging deeper or wider foundations in which to place bigger and more
powerful windfarms will also potentially have a damaging impact on
The report reveals that Scotland is home to more than 3,200 operational
wind turbines, with a further 2,300 either under construction or awaiting
The majority of these (74 per cent) are on peatland.
Renewable energy accounted for around 60% of the country’s gross annual
consumption in 2015, up from just 12% in 2000, with much of that increase
attributed to onshore wind farms.
The report revealed that as the turbines come to the end of their lifespan,
usually after around 25 years, they need to be upgraded or replaced via a
process known as repowering.
This means either disturbing the peat by regenerating existing turbine
foundations or creating completely new foundations elsewhere on the site.
The existing turbines would then be increased from 100 metres to roughly
170 metres to harness “better wind”.
Professor Susan Waldron, of the University of Glasgow’s School of
Geographical and Earth Sciences, said that while the damage to peatland is
serious, the “payback time”, i.e. the time it takes before the turbines
become beneficial to the environment, is relatively short.
Research suggests this is usually between two to three years, compared to
the 25-year lifespan of the turbine.
Ms Waldron said the report was”of significance internationally”, and showed
that Scotland is keen to lead the way in repowering, which has only been
done on a small scale so far.
“We’ve completed the most comprehensive and collaborative report on
repowering to date,” she said, adding that it considers “the ecological,
hydrological, biogeochemical and carbon security impacts of the repowering
“This shows that foundations could be re-engineered to take bigger turbines
(for another 30 years), but reusing the foundation generally requires more
construction materials and disturbs the soil as much as a new foundation.”
She added that of the two repowering options,creating new foundations would
be the most environmentally friendly as regeneration involved more
materials and more disruption to the peat.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said the report was a “helpful contribution”
to the developing debate on repowering existing wind farms.
Charity director Dr Richard Dixon said: “Scotland needs to develop our
renewable energy capacity if we want to progress towards a zero carbon
“Increasing onshore wind production, whilst minimising disruption to
communities and the environment, is absolutely key to achieving that aim.
“Through a process of engagement with stakeholders and expert analysis of
the benefits arising, repowered sites can play a significant role in the
“With careful development on shallower peatland, the net emissions savings
over the lifespan of a turbine project can make a very large contribution
to our collective climate action.”
Scottish Renewables said wind was the cheapest form of green energy and the
Scottish government’s “robust” planning system already factored in the
impact of on carbon emissions.
The Scottish Government said it supported upgrading “in principle” while
protecting the country’s natural heritage, which included assessing and
minimising the “carbon impact” of wind farms on peatland.