Whistle down the wind

Written by on 23 March 2013 in Feature

Opinion polls show public backing for the SNP’s renewable energy policies but protests at the party conference show it is not all going their way

Party conferences and political protests go hand in hand.

At the Tory conference last year in Birmingham, the placards carried anti-fracking slogans; in Dundee at the Lib Dems’ this year, the slogans voiced over the megaphones were in protest at the ‘bedroom tax’; while for the SNP this spring, as it was at their conference in Perth last autumn and Inverness this time last year, the issue was wind.
Anti-wind farm protestors, who are angry at wind turbines used to produce renewable energy damaging the Scottish landscape, will be presenting a petition with more than 4,000 signatures to ‘Stop the Reckless Siting of Wind Turbines in Scotland’s Scenic Landscapes’.

Last year a campaign group, Communities Against Turbines Scotland (CATS), hit the headlines after it joined forces with Donald Trump as he called on the Scottish Government to end its support of wind power — fuelled by his own opposition to plans for an off shore development off the coast of his golf course complex near Aberdeen.

He appeared with CATS representatives at the Scottish Parliament’s Energy Committee in April 2012 but far from changing the minds of MSPs, his claims of how wind farms were damaging Scotland were dismissed in the committee’s subsequent report.

CATS disbanded, but the new group formed from its ashes, Scotland Against Spin (SAS), has renewed its off ensive on wind turbines, calling for a moratorium on wind farm developments and wants the Scottish Government to adopt “a sensible energy policy”.

It will be taking part in the protest alongside the Stop Highlands Windfarm Campaign (SHWC), but the petition itself has been organised by Wind Wise Radio — an American radio station which has taken up their cause and has attracted support from more than 40 countries.

Member Linda Holt said: “Th e protest is about the current government’s wind energy policy, people want it stopped, basically. Th ey want a moratorium and a complete review and rethink, an assessment of what it costs and the damage that it causes.

“We should look at what the benefi ts are, but we’ve never really had any proper assessment of the disbenefi ts.

“People don’t feel the Government is listening to them and that’s why they are taking to the streets. It’s not just Nimbys who don’t want this next to their house and are worried about house prices. The Government has refused to listen to concerns or engage with people, all it has done is trot out propaganda about how wonderful wind energy is and how it only ever puts the right developments in the right places — which is manifestly untrue.”

A source of frustration for protestors is that large wind farms generating more than 50MW can be called in to be decided on by the Scottish Government, not by councils, and Holt calls the planning process “very undemocratic”.

 

Official figures on support from the public, though, would appear not to back up their arguments. The latest opinion poll from YouGov, which was launched at Scottish Renewables’ annual conference in Edinburgh, showed that 65 per cent of people agreed that wind power should continue to be developed as part of a mix of renewables.

In addition, 62 per cent said they were generally for large-scale wind projects being built in their council area. Although only 18 per cent said they would want the majority of their electricity to come from wind as opposed to other renewable sources.

Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, an industry lobby group, said: “The poll suggests a signifi cant majority of people in Scotland are in favour of renewable energy, including when people were asked about developments in their local area.

“It is encouraging that when people were asked about a range of energy sources the majority consistently chose renewables. The poll also suggests a group of people that oppose wind power, and other renewables, are a minority.

“While this polling evidence doesn’t mean that every renewable scheme proposed should be approved, it is important that people bear this research in mind when debating the pros and cons of the differing choices that Scotland could make to meet its future energy needs.”

But Holt points to the protests that SAS has held and the number of letters that are written to newspapers in opposition to wind farms, as evidence that not everybody is happy and says that integrating wind energy into the electricity network will cause energy bills to rise and lead to power cuts and even cause a rise in emissions.

Wind energy requires a baseload to provide a secure energy supply when the turbines are not turning, she says this will mean relying on fossil fuels and cause rising carbon emissions.

She adds: “The wind industry has been so successful in marketing itself that many people still believe that wind is the cheap, green dream answer to our energy needs and environmental woes.

“More and more folk are taking to the streets, writing to newspapers, contributing to TV and radio programmes, organising petitions, setting up internet sites, organising campaign groups and taking to the courts in Scotland and Europe.

“Local authorities want moratoria; local politicians increasingly refuse consent for more turbines; and the Scottish Tory Party has become the UK’s first major political party to call for a halt to further wind development.

Th e vast majority of those with first-hand experience of the reality of wind development recognise the industry’s frantic myth-making for what it is.”

The total installed capacity of renewable electricity in Scotland grew from 2,674MW in 2007 to 4,842MW in 2011, the majority of that coming from onshore wind. In 2011, the total electricity output from renewable electricity in Scotland was 13,753 GWh, with 7,004GWh coming from wind.

According to Scottish Renewables, the level of investment in onshore wind from January to September last year was £1bn and the whole renewable sector provides 11,136 jobs.

Despite the positive polls showing support, the Government has clearly taken the opposition seriously.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed that in the last year ministers and officials have met with representatives from Scotland Against Spin and its predecessor CATS, as well as other independent anti-wind campaigners.

She said: “Scotland has huge clean green energy resources and our renewables industry is delivering jobs, investment and benefits to our communities.

“We listen to and consult with all interested parties when it comes to the development of Scotland’s renewable energy industry. We also provide clear guidance to local authorities and developers on the location of wind turbine developments to ensure that developments only go ahead in the right places.

“We are currently reviewing Scottish Planning Policy and we plan to launch a consultation in spring 2013.” However, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP, Rob Gibson, the SNP convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, is critical of the wind farm protestors.

“Basically, some of their responses are overwrought, inaccurate and misrepresent what local democracy is. Many local people would look forward to the jobs that will be created in the construction of various turbines. The group of people who feel that their democratic rights have been infringed and protests ignored, in some local areas can show a majority of local people without a doubt.

“But the national interest in this case is something we can’t ignore lightly and they do wish to ignore the national interest, which is ensuring that the vast majority of the population will actually have a landscape to look at in 50 years’ time because we’ve kept the degrees Celsius down through our climate change measures.

“If they were thinking about the future, or our children and grandchildren, we do not want them to face the appalling experiences of increasingly extreme weather conditions, droughts and floods.”

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