By Morag Watson, Director of Policy, Scottish Renewables
Onshore wind is one of Scotland’s economic and environmental success stories.
As our capacity to capture the energy from the gales and breezes which
scour Europe’s windiest country has increased, so too have the numerous
benefits which onshore wind farms bring.
In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the
onshore wind sector invested £2.8 billion in Scotland – the equivalent of
1.5% of Scotland’s GDP.
But the real reason the world needs onshore wind is simple: we cannot win
the fight against climate change if our energy industry continues to
produce carbon at the rate it historically has.
The equivalent of around three quarters of the electricity we use in
Scotland is delivered by renewables like onshore wind today, up from just a
quarter 10 years ago.
Using renewables like onshore wind to generate electricity means we don’t
have to use fossil fuels, and prevents, according to the most recent
figures, 9.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere
each year – the equivalent of taking almost every car, bus, lorry and train
off Scotland’s roads and rails.
But while onshore wind power is more popular today than it’s ever been –
and more popular in Scotland than in the rest of the UK – we need to be
sure the development of onshore wind projects is as environmentally sound
as it can be.
Industry works hard with an enormous range of stakeholders to make sure
that the very best construction, operations and maintenance practices are
Last month (July 2019) we worked with our members, Perth and Kinross
Council, Historic Environment Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, SEPA
and Marine Scotland to update a document which has come to symbolise that
cooperation: Good Practice during Wind Farm Construction.
It sets out, in detail, best-practice principles on every aspect of wind
farm construction, from how to best engage planning authorities as a site
is being considered right through to engaging in circular economy concepts
like re-using and recovering as much redundant material as possible.
Scottish Renewables also sits on Scotland’s National Peatland Group, which
is revising a National Peatland Plan to take into account new information
on how wind farms and peatland interact.
And that brings us to a remarkable but often hidden benefit of onshore wind
development: its intrinsic relationship with conservation and restoration
of our most valued flora, fauna and landscapes.
The Scottish Government’s carbon calculator plays a key role in ensuring
that wind farm developments in Scotland are built in a sustainable way.
It compares the carbon costs of wind farm developments with the carbon
savings attributable to the wind farm in a comprehensive and consistent
way, giving planners the detail they need to consider every application.
As an industry which works in remote areas (coincidentally often Scotland’s
windiest) the onshore wind sector has led the way in restoring hectares of
degraded peatland while at the same time installing turbines to tackle
climate change and generate local economic benefit.
Scotland’s rigorous planning system, currently undergoing reform following
the Planning (Scotland) Act and through the formulation of the fourth
National Planning Framework, is in place to ensure only good, sustainable
projects get built – and that all interested parties get their say in the
We must continue to develop our renewable energy resource to provide the
clean energy needed to tackle the climate emergency and meet our net-zero
emissions target, and our industry will continue to work with stakeholders
across society to make sure we do that in the most sustainable way possible.