Last year it was the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Phillip). He described wind farms as “disgraceful”, that people who support them believe in a “fairy tale”, that they relied on government subsidies to survive and that they served “no useful purpose”…. I remember at the time laughing at the irony of this statement coming a member of the British Royal Family.
This year, we have Donald Trump. He is saying that Scotland is committing “financial suicide” by wanting to create a “wind farm landscape” which would kill off tourism. “Don’t destroy your coastlines and your countryside with the monstrous turbines,” he is reported as saying. “Your country will become a third world wasteland that global investors will avoid.”
Now, whatever your view on wind farms, let me just clarify a few things, just in case you’d missed them.
Mr Trump is a Chump
Mr Trump arrived in Scotland today prior to giving evidence to a Scottish Government committee on Wednesday. Mr Trump only entered into this debate because there is a planning application for an offshore wind farm that will be visible from his new controversial golf course near Aberdeen. He is not concerned with Scotland’s prosperity or landscape, only his golf course with its massive clubhouse that is truly ugly – monstrous, even! (My secret suspicion is that he doesn’t like wind because of what it does to his comb-over!)
Scotland’s Populace Support Wind Energy
A recent poll showed that the Scottish people broadly support wind power as part of the mix of renewable energy, with 70% in favour of continuing development of wind farms.
Scotland has a very ambitious renewable energy policy – we will generate as much electricity as we use from renewable energy by 2020. It will be a mix of wind power (onshore and offshore), wave and tidal, with some biomass burning thrown in. The lights won’t go out when the wind doesn’t blow, because we will still generate some energy from hydro and non-renewable sources. When the wind really blows, we will export that electricity.
The Scottish Landscape is not Wilderness.
It is beautiful in its own right, but its not pristine. Most of the forests are unnatural single species plantations grown last century. Most of the romantically barren hillsides were once naturally forested, but “we” (including the invading Romans) deforested virtually all of it. And the roads, the telegraph poles, the electricity pylons, the agricultural fields and all our buildings – they are all human imposition on an otherwise “beautiful” landscape. Indeed, I’d argue that the beauty of Scotland’s (outside of the cities) is as much to do with the innovative human additions as it is about the natural backdrop – whether that’s the romantic Eilean Donan Castle, the Forth Bridges, or the Falkirk Wheel.
The reason, I believe, that wind turbines are an easy target is not just because you can see them, but they also move – they remind you that they are there. Most of those other human contraptions on the landscape sit quietly, doing nothing and you get used to them and you forget that they are they. The impact of burning fossil fuels is all around us – but its invisible. You can see smoke or soot, but you can’t see CO2. This is what I encourage you all to do – when someone complains to you about the visible impact of windfarms, remind them of the much more severe, but invisible, impact of the alternatives.
“They are only 20% efficient” says Trump
Don’t let anyone tell you about the “inefficiency” of windfarms. Efficiency makes no sense in a windfarm as you are not investing anything in the extraction of a energy source. If you extract coal from the ground, it takes money and effort. You therefore need to ensure you use that coal as efficiently as possible – i.e. you get as much energy out of the coal as you possibly can. For wind, this is not relevant. Even if you only capture 5% of the available wind energy, it isn’t a problem – you got it for free.
Now, we might have discussions about cost-effectiveness and economics… But I do think we need to be honest about the fact that this is all a bit of an experiment (the politicians wouldn’t want to call an ambitious policy target an “experiment”, but it kind of is). It’s a well-thought through experiment, but its an experiment none the less. All forms of innovation, of trail-blazing, of leading a way – they all require a bit of experimentation, complete with some set backs and even the occasional failure. They all require investment – loss now for gain later. In 10 years time, people will look to the expertise and experience of small countries like Scotland and Denmark to see how it has to be done.
There are lots of myths about wind power. There are also some problems, but they have to be worked through. No energy source was ever just implemented without challenge. If we were only tied to wind power, we might worry when it doesn’t blow, but that is not the plan. It’s a mix.
Final thought. We can’t use fossil fuels forever. Not only are they a finite resource, but they are largely located (at least for now) in the most politically unstable parts of the world. It will take time to develop alternatives, so we need to start now. Who will lead the way and trail blaze to having a sustainable solution? I’m proud that Scotland has stepped forward to take up that challenge.
 It is true that we have to be careful to limit any kind of construction in areas designated as having particular scenic beauty, but that is why we have planning policies.
Scotland’s 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/08/04110353/0
A fantastic animation showing wind fields over the USA. http://hint.fm/wind/