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
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
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?