Siol nan Gaidheal

Wind Power in Scotland

Scotland is uniquely endowed with an enviable suite of natural resources. Not least among these is the scope for exploiting renewable resources. This is fortunate given post-Kyoto agreements on CO2 abatement and the need for a responsible energy program to address the deterioration of our environment through global warming. Any assessment of European wind conditions concludes that Scotland has the most favourable wind regime in Europe for the generation of wind power. This extends to the offshore construction of wind farms, which could possibly generate twice as much as their onshore counterparts. It remains a conundrum then why this resource should be so spectacularly underexploited in Scotland.

Scotland at present has an installed capacity of 63 MW (Mega Watts) which utilises wind power. The most recent addition to this was the construction of the wind farm at Beinn Ghlas which now provides for ¼ of the electricity consumption of Lorne. To this we should compare, though comparison proves odious, the 1700 MW installed in Denmark and the 100 MW capacity installed per month last year in Germany. The UK government has a target of drawing 20% of our power demand from renewable resources, with around 10% of that being made up of wind power, by the year 2010. This target could be achieved and exceeded much more rapidly in Scotland, as indeed Europe wide targets are outstripped by the growth of windpower on the continent which now is greater than 30% per annum. Even within the British Isles Scotland lags behind Northern Ireland and Wales, where 40% of power demand in Powys is met by wind power. There are no offshore wind power developments in Scotland, despite Scotland accounting for nearly 1/3 of Europe's total offshore potential.

The benefits of developing wind power extend beyond power generation. Denmark and now Germany have attained dominating positions in the manufacture of wind turbines due to their commitment to this energy source. In Denmark experimental communities have been set up to investigate the potential for drawing all of those communities energy requirements from locally developed renewable resources including wind, solar and biomass power. In England the erection of the most efficient wind turbine in the world was recently celebrated, on which was stamped of course "hergestellt in Deutschland". The skills and infrastructure required to sustain a wind turbine industry exist in Scotland. Indeed, the effects of the decline of the oil industry with the recent projected 100,000 job losses could be greatly alleviated by indigenous wind turbine manufacturing geared to the realisation of Scotland's offshore potential. For less than half the cost of Mandelson's Marquee, the millenium dome, the initial cost hump of developing offshore wind power could be surmounted. Government support for this is as yet not forthcoming. Scotland is still shackled to a cycle of de-skilling directed by the flat-earthers of London for whom the M25 represents the edge of the world.

The Danes abandoned the prospect of nuclear power ¼ of a century ago, which may be seen as an incentive in the development of alternatives. Scotland however still has a massive nuclear commitment. The nuclear industry in the UK initially had close but undisclosed ties to the military whereby weapons grade fissile material was supplied to the military from civilian reactors. This no longer obtains of course largely due to the world glut of plutonium Nevertheless underhand tactics were employed to undermine the development of renewable resources as an alternative to nuclear power in the UK. Scientific opinion in favour of wind and wave power was subjected to an orchestrated campaign to discredit it, involving PR firms and scientists whose impartiality can be held in doubt given that the chief beneficiaries of their conclusions were those who funded their research. This campaign even extended to the character assassination of individuals. It appears however that this inhibiting influence on the development of wind power seems to have subsided as being no longer relevant in a post-Cold War world.

Wind power is cheap and sustainable. The Beinn Ghlas project cost £7M and took 10 months to construct. The energy trading arrangements that exist currently put it at a disadvantage. Wind power should not be traded in competition with a pool of other resources or in competition with cheap Australian coal burning in Longannet. Rather, the small scale of many wind power facilities and the insecurity of supply favours a more local distribution which makes occasional demands on a national power grid. The greater security of offshore supply, which could on its own plausibly satisfy 40% of total needs, should be developed more in line with the existing large plant model. A dispersed and locally owned generation network would benefit communities and help underpin the vast cultural capital they represent.

The use of renewable resources makes continuing sense in view of the environmental imperative. For too long the prevailing economic view has been conditioned by the fallacy that economies can expand forever in terms of the indices which lend that concept any meaning. Our planet represents a finite sphere of possibilities into which expansion cannot continue unchecked. A change of emphasis in power generation to sustainable, rurally developed, locally owned facilities will not just help sustain communities but also the environment they enjoy.

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