The people the issues the back story
”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.
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.
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.