Agenda:

The peo­ple the is­sues the back story

The Oban Times - - Front Page - Mike MacKen­zie

”There is some­thing im­moral about peo­ple who are un­able to af­ford heat­ing costs in a coun­try like Scot­land which is awash with energy”

There is some­thing im­moral about peo­ple who are un­able to af­ford heat­ing costs in a coun­try like Scot­land which is awash with energy

Mke MacKen­zie MSP for High­lands and Is­lands

(pic­tured above and right)

Shake­speare said that ‘ noth­ing is ei­ther good or bad, but think­ing makes it so’. As far as the aes­thet­ics of wind tur­bines go, this is true. It is purely sub­jec­tive. I like them. I find them el­e­gant and I en­joy watch­ing them, es­pe­cially the larger ones which turn more slowly. Watch­ing them re­laxes and calms me; a bit like watch­ing an aquar­ium. Most of the public seem to agree with me, with re­peated polls con­sis­tently sug­gest­ing sup­port for wind energy is around 70 per cent.

I ac­cept, though, that some peo­ple don’t like them and we should cer­tainly not site them in our most scenic and un­spoiled ar­eas. That is why I am glad the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment has pro­tected these ar­eas, not least by the in­tro­duc­tion of Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage’s ‘ wild land maps’, although the term ‘ wild land’ does need to be qual­i­fied.

There is pre­cious lit­tle of what might gen­uinely be termed ‘ wild land’ in Scot­land, the hand of man hav­ing worked over most of our land­scape, one way of another, since the last ice age ended around 10,000 years ago. Deer, sheep and spruce plan­ta­tions have etched their im­pres­sions on our land­scape and apart from the tops of our moun­tains and the odd shreds of re­main­ing Cale­do­nian for­est, the land­scape as we know it bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the his­tor­i­cal one. For ex­am­ple, much of Ar­gyll’s na­tive for­est was cut down in the 18th and early 19th cen­turies for the char­coal then needed in iron pro­duc­tion. Our land­scape is by no means wild and it is not pris­tine.

Scot­land

has 25 per cent of the EU’s wind energy re­source and it would be daft not to utilise this. Forty years ago we led re­search in wind energy. It is a great pity we did not make progress back then and in­stead al­lowed the Danes to steal this lead from us as their coun­try now ben­e­fits hugely from their im­por­tant wind tur­bine man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try.

Nev­er­the­less, there are sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for Scot­land from wind energy and par­tic­u­larly the High­lands and Is­lands where most of this op­por­tu­nity lies. Our fore­fa­thers strug­gled against our in­hos­pitable cli­mate; our wind and rain and our tides and our waves. It is a de­light­ful irony that re­new­able energy now of­fers the op­por­tu­nity for us to ben­e­fit from our harsh cli­mate.

Ar­gyll and Bute is the only part of the High­lands and Is­lands now los­ing pop­u­la­tion and jobs are there­fore at a pre­mium. The jobs as­so­ci­ated with on­shore wind de­vel­op­ment and main­te­nance are a nec­es­sary and welcome part of our econ­omy. So too are the many jobs in­volved in the man­u­fac­tur­ing of wind tur­bine tow­ers at Camp­bel­town.

Com­mu­nity wind energy projects pro­duce very use­ful in­come for lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions, the flag­ship of these be­ing Gigha, where the ‘danc­ing ladies’ as they call their tur­bines, are help­ing to pay for badly-needed ren­o­va­tion of homes and for other com­mu­nity projects.

Hard- pressed farm­ers ben­e­fit too with in­come gen­er­ated from wind tur­bines help­ing their busi­nesses to re­main vi­able. Some of this money is spent lo­cally, sup­port­ing the lo­cal econ­omy and lo­cal busi­nesses, giv­ing rise to what econ­o­mists call the ‘mul­ti­plier ef­fect’.

It is some­times sug­gested that wind tur­bines have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on tourism and on qual­ity of life. That is not the les­son we learn from Orkney where they have more wind tur­bines than any other part of the UK and gen­er­ate over 100 per cent of their elec­tric­ity from wind energy.

Orkney has the most dy­namic and suc­cess­ful tourism sec­tor of any part of the High­lands and Is­lands and is the UK’s top cruise ship des­ti­na­tion. It is also al­ways in the top three when UK qual­ity of life sur­veys are done. This ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gests that wind tur­bines have very lit­tle ef­fect on ei­ther tourism or the qual­ity of life of lo­cal peo­ple.

I have met and talked to most of the peo­ple who lead the anti- wind tur­bines move­ments in Scot­land and lis­tened care­fully to their ar­gu­ments. I can find lit­tle ev­i­dence to sup­port these ar­gu­ments other than the pseudo- science they rou­tinely present as the gospel truth. The main threat to health seems to be caused by wor­ry­ing un­duly about the pos­si­ble ef­fects of wind tur­bines.

To­wards the end of his life, Mark Twain, the Amer­i­can writer and hu­morist, said: ‘ I am an old man and my life has been full of trou­bles, most of which did not hap­pen’. This seems to be borne out by aca­demic stud­ies which have in­ter­viewed ob­jec­tors to wind energy projects three or four years af­ter they have been built. These stud­ies sug­gest that a large ma­jor­ity of ob­jec­tors find that their fears did not ma­te­ri­alise and that, in prac­tice, the wind de­vel­op­ments did not ad­versely af­fect their lives.

Those who ob­ject to wind tur­bines don’t think about cli­mate change which is a gen­uine threat; they don’t think about the need to de­car­bonise our energy sup­ply and re­duce pol­lu­tion; and they don’t think about energy se­cu­rity or energy costs. It is a fact that on­shore wind energy is rapidly be­com­ing the low­est cost clean energy source we have and will soon re­quire no sub­sidy at all. Many of our is­lands suf­fer fuel poverty at rates be­yond 50 per cent and steeply ris­ing energy prices are a prob­lem we must tackle.

It is very un­for­tu­nate then that, as a re­sult of the Energy Re­form Act passed by the pre­vi­ous UK gov­ern­ment, the de­ci­sion has been made to sup­port new nu­clear power rather than re­new­able energy. The sub­sidy which has been agreed for the new and un­tried re­ac­tor at Hinck­ley point is £ 35 bil­lion with another £10 bil­lion in as­so­ci­ated in­fra­struc­ture. This is a sub­sidy paid at twice the price of whole­sale energy and will en­sure high elec­tric­ity costs for the 35 years over which it will be paid. On top of this will come stag­ger­ing decom­mis­sion­ing costs with those at Sel­lafield now es­ti­mated at £ 67 bil­lion; all met by the tax payer.

UK energy pol­icy has been dis­as­trous over the last 35 years and we are now in a sit­u­a­tion where Ofgem is warn­ing about power black­outs this win­ter as spare ca­pac­ity gen­er­a­tion has de­clined to only two per cent. This has led to the Na­tional Grid fu­ri­ously buy­ing up spare ca­pac­ity gen­er­a­tion at in­flated prices in or­der to keep the lights on. This means we will all be pay­ing higher energy prices than we should be.

There

is some­thing im­moral about peo­ple who are un­able to af­ford heat­ing costs in a coun­try like Scot­land which is awash with energy. The Scot­tish gov­ern­ment, un­for­tu­nately, has very lit­tle power over energy. We can say what we don’t want and pre­vent new nu­clear plants through the plan­ning sys­tem, but we can­not in­cen­tivise what we do want, like cap­i­tal­is­ing on our re­new­able energy op­por­tu­nity.

On­shore wind energy can only prop­erly be con­sid­ered against this back­ground of cli­mate change and ris­ing energy prices. It is an al­most ma­ture tech­nol­ogy which paves the way for oth­ers, not least in pay­ing for the up­grade and ex­ten­sion of our grid, which will, in turn, al­low the newer tech­nolo­gies of wave and tidal power to flour­ish.

All of this is very good news for the High­lands and Is­lands and of­fers a real prospect of help­ing us se­cure pros­per­ity for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

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