A RECENT, authoritative study hinted at the future potential of onshore
wind when it said that Europe’s untapped capacity in the field could
produce enough power to meet the world’s energy needs until 2050.
The study suggested that the sector’s horizon was ‘bright’. Its authors
emphasised that they were not recommending that turbines should be erected
in all the sites they identified, but merely that the ‘huge wind-power
potential’ across the Continent should be harnessed if a ‘climate
catastrophe’ is to be averted. The study, they continued, was simply a
guide for policy-makers.
As governments increasingly announce ambitious carbon-neutral targets,
onshore wind has emerged as a key component of renewable energy. The
Scottish Government has described onshore wind as being among the
lowest-cost forms of electricity generation. in 2017, it said onshore wind
played a key role in empowering local communities, with over £12 million in
community benefits payments distributed the previous year.
But opponents of onshore wind have considerable ammunition, too. They point
to what they describe as turbines’ unreliability when the wind drops, to
their visual impact on the landscape and subsequent impact on tourism, to
the noise nuisance.
In the Shetland Isles, as we report today, many residents have been
fighting a sustained battle against a proposed 103-turbine development to
be built on peatland. The Viking Wind Farm will likely be the third-largest
in the UK, but the sentiments of those who oppose it are eloquent: they
speak of a loss of cultural-heritage landscape, of loss or damaged
habitats, of long-term impacts on the health and mental well-being of
people who live in the vicinity, of the amounts of carbon that will be
released into the atmosphere were 103 turbines to be installed on peat-land.
On the other hand, SSE and the Shetland community who are behind the Viking
project hope that it will become the most productive such venture anywhere
in the world. Millions of pounds could find its way into the Shetland
economy, they add, as a result of the community investment.
Many feel instinctively that Scotland is already over-provisioned in
onshore wind, and see no need for further developments that would ruin the
landscape. But those who support onshore wind point to numerous factors:
the urgent need to reduce worldwide CO2 emissions; the long-term decline of
North Sea resources; the ageing nature of coal-power stations and nuclear
power plants; the drive to become less dependent upon imports of energy
resources from overseas. Scotland’s success in sourcing its energy from
renewables cannot be gainsaid, but there is a case for assessing the future
role of a windfarm when its turbines reach the end of their lifespan, and
whether the land could be put to other use – for the planting of trees, for