Struan Stevenson: SNP Government can’t see the wood for the trees – Herald

BORIS Johnson should agree to Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a place at the

COP26 global summit when it comes to Glasgow in November. She has a lot of

questions to answer. With the recent discovery of a new bonanza in the

North Sea with recoverable resources estimated at around 100 million

barrels of carbon-emitting oil, the First Minister’s declaration of a

national climate emergency in Scotland leaves her with a challenging square

to circle.

Could an independent Scotland, turning its back on the annual Barnett

Formula transfer of £10 billion from the Treasury, really afford to shut

down the North Sea oilfields? With a fiscal deficit bigger than Greece, an

independent Scotland would have an economic black hole, greater than the

one in the ozone layer to fill.

Those who suspect that Ms Sturgeon’s chest-thumping climate emergency

pledge was simply empty rhetoric, may have a point. Her Government’s policy

on tackling carbon emissions certainly seems to have veered way off course.

The SNP’s obsession with wind power as a source of low-cost, zero-carbon

renewable energy has led to a proliferation of giant, industrial wind

turbines, sprouting in hideous legions across Scotland’s once pristine

landscape. The huge cost of these monstrosities and their attendant

overhead powerlines is simply passed on to Scotland’s beleaguered

electricity consumers, driving fuel poverty to unprecedented levels.

Not content with receiving generous payments when they actually produce

electricity, the power companies get hefty handouts even when their

turbines are switched off. In the 10 years to 2019 these so-called

constraint payments, paid usually when the grid is over-congested, amounted

to a staggering £649 million in Scotland. The power companies were

effectively being paid for discarding 8.7 TWh (TerraWatt Hours) of

electricity. According to the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), this

quantity of energy would be sufficient to provide 90 per cent of all

Scottish households with electricity for a year.

But the climate change catastrophe doesn’t end there. Following a freedom

of information request to Scottish Forestry, it has been revealed that 13.9

million trees were felled to make way for wind farms. There will also have

been an unknown quantity of private forestry felled for the same reason.

With a target of covering up to 21 per cent of Scotland’s land area with

trees by 2032, this massive deforestation exercise seems to be a strange

way of achieving that objective. We are illogically cutting down vast

expanses of forest every year, destroying nature’s own carbon capture and

storage system, while beating the drum for a zero-carbon future.

Worse still, we are digging up peat bogs all across Scotland to construct

industrial wind farms. Peatland is Europe’s equivalent of rainforest and it

constitutes a vital component of the world’s natural air conditioning

system. Peatland and wetland ecosystems, for which Scotland is renowned,

accumulate plant material and rotting trees under saturated conditions to

form layers of peat soil up to 20 metres thick – storing on average 10

times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems. But vast areas of

carbon-capturing peat bogs in Scotland have been torn up to make way for

so-called “green” energy projects like wind farms, rendering the whole

process carbon-negative.

Peat is a global carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of CO2 during the

thousands of years the peat is formed from rotting trees and plant

material. Damage to peat can extend as much as 250 metres on either side of

turbine foundations and access-road installations. So, the peat will

gradually dry out over the years resulting in an ongoing release of carbon.

This can easily be calculated once the total extent of the planned

development is known using the fact that peat contains 55 kg carbon/cubic

metre – three times as much as a tropical rainforest. The whole hydrology

of the area will change forever and once damaged, peat can never be

replaced – a terrible legacy to leave to future generations and a loss of a

critical carbon sink.

Many giant wind turbines in Scotland are being built on deep peatland,

causing immense damage to the environment and releasing vast quantities of

CO2. Farmers and landowners with great tracts of peatland welcome

development on what they have always regarded as unproductive terrain.

Hundreds of applications are still in the planning pipeline, many of them

in wholly inappropriate locations which would threaten endangered flora and

fauna and industrialise some of Scotland’s most spectacular landscape.

Worse still, by destroying deep peatland, these wind farms would create

more carbon emissions than they would ever save. Taken together with the

construction of the mammoth steel towers, vast concrete foundations under

every turbine, borrow pits, drains, connecting and access roads, overhead

power-lines and pylons, it is not unreasonable to think that the carbon

footprint from every windfarm built on deep peat far exceeds any

environmental savings it may aspire to.

Of course, the big power companies, who are pocketing billions of pounds

from these projects, are keen to disprove this theory and regularly trot

out “experts” to say that drainage of the peat is not necessary and that

damage to the environment will always be minimised. The “floating roads”

needed for access to the turbines are made to sound as if they can defy

gravity by floating over the surface of peat bogs. Actually, they require

tens of thousands of tonnes of rock foundation, which cuts off the water

flow to the bog and causes the peat to dry out, releasing millions of years

of stored CO2 into the atmosphere.

To suggest that a wind farm can be built without damaging peatland is

absurd. As soon as the so-called floating roads have been built and

construction of the giant turbines takes place, the peat will be breached

and drainage of the peat bog will occur naturally. This is basic hydrology.

Drains will then have to be installed to take excess water off the site –

otherwise the area will flood. This is called peat run-off and it will flow

into adjacent watercourses, causing potentially the deaths of many

freshwater and marine organisms as a result of suffocation.

So, the 200 world leaders and 30,000 delegates who attend the COP26 summit

in Glasgow may like to ask Nicola Sturgeon to explain how pumping oil out

of the North Sea, digging up vast tracts of Scottish peat and hacking down

huge swathes of forestry can meet her climate emergency criteria?

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