The Turbines Evaluation Group – Helensburgh and area (TEG-H) supports renewable energy. We accept the challenges of climate change and sustainability and the need for carbon reduction. Thus, as a matter of policy, we advocate renewables as a contributory element of total energy provision. Further, there is greater security in diversity of sources, thereby providing grounds for a multiplicity of renewable types. TEG-H welcomes the fact that there are many sorts of renewables, but we do not cover here the debates about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
We point out, however, that the "costs" of traditional energy and the compensating "benefits" of renewables are already recognised by very generous subsidies to renewable energy suppliers paid by all of us. If further expansion of renewables is not possible without imposing even more costs on local communities by, for example, damaging local economies and/or the landscape, then there are grounds for arguing that they should be controlled in extent. If they are over-permitted, then we may be paying too much.
In that context, TEG-H notes the following.
The Third National Planning Framework (NPF3, June 2014), recently issued by the Scottish Government, advocates all forms of renewable energy at present, but sees onshore wind farms as the one source of renewable energy that will have less emphasis in the (unspecified) future. Having noted the value of hydro and other onshore sources, it states in paragraph 3.9 : “In time, we expect the pace of onshore wind energy development to be overtaken by a growing focus on our significant marine energy opportunities, including wind, wave and tidal energy.” That, with recognition of other problems with onshore wind farms in sensitive areas given in the new Scottish Planning Policy (2014), indicates a shift away from wind farms on land.
Evidence has been released (Scottish Energy News, 22.8.14) that “Targets set by the Scottish Government for renewable electricity generation have now virtually been met by schemes that are already operating or have been consented. UK renewable energy schemes in operation or consented – including Scotland’s – now account for nearly all of the subsidies available from the Treasury up to 2020.”
Supporting the right sorts of wind turbines in the right places
TEG-H has said it supports the right sorts of wind turbines in the right places. That warrants explanation. Discussions about the relative merits and demerits of different sorts of renewable energy – including delays in tidal and wave technology and the inefficiencies associated with wind farms – have been thoroughly expressed elsewhere and TEG-H does not repeat them here. But it does assess types of wind farm
Here TEG-H is referring to onshore, not offshore, wind farms.
TEG-H suggests that there are three main tests of suitability when considering a possible onshore wind farm. These three have resulted from its consideration of wind farms that have nearly or entirely met these criteria.
The wind farms that have least visual impact are in remote areas where they can be located behind hills and set away from centres of population. Fintry has been cited as an example of good practice by the Helensburgh developers. We note that the wind farm is situated 8 km from Fintry, the other side of a range of hills and not visible from Fintry itself. That contrasts with the Helensburgh proposal which would site turbines only 1.7 km from the town boundary and directly overlooking Helensburgh.
2. Small populations affected
Apart from being inconspicuous, wind farms in remote locations affect very few people. If the frequency-of-viewing test is applied, there is very little adverse effect. By contrast, a wind farm overlooking Helensburgh would rate badly on the frequency-of-viewing test.
As a side-issue, small, well-protected communities can attract financial inducements on a per capita scale that can make a difference to whole communities. While not enthusiastic about such financial inducements, TEG-H recognizes that they are among developers’ PR techniques and are a feature of the current process. Examples of per capita gains by small communities have been given to us, as follows. We have accepted the figures as provided to us.
Wind farm Community Community Per capita benefit (£)/year population gain
Small communities can receive sums that are cross-community useful. By contrast, at just £40,000 a year, Helensburgh would receive less than £3 per person a year by our calculation. If spread over all the settlements affected it would be even less.
3. Official criteria for judging the suitability of a wind farm application
Both the current A&BC Local Plan (August 2009) and the new 2014 Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) provide useful checklists against which planning applications for wind farms are assessed. The SPP, being recent, now supplements the Local Plan which is over five years old.
Both lists are given below. TEG-H has used the SPP list as a key guide to its analyses. As is clear, the Helensburgh wind farm proposal does not measure up adequately to many of the issues raised in these lists.
Argyll and Bute Council Local Plan 2009 (page 87) Policy LP REN 1 – Wind Farms and Wind Turbines
(A) For all commercial wind farms, regardless of scale, the issues raised by the following must be satisfactorily addressed:
Communities, settlements and their settings
Areas and interests of nature conservation significance including local biodiversity, ecology, and the water environment
Landscape and townscape character, scenic quality and visual and general amenity
Core paths, rights of way; or other important access routes
Sites of historic or archaeological interest and their settings
Telecommunications, transmitting and receiving systems
Important tourist facilities, attractions or routes
Stability of peat deposits.
Scottish Government Scottish Planning Policy 2014 (para.169, page 40)
169. Proposals for energy infrastructure developments should always take account of spatial frameworks for wind farms and heat maps where these are relevant. Considerations will vary relative to the scale of the proposal and area characteristics but are likely to include:
net economic impact, including local and community socio-economic benefits such as employment, associated business and supply chain opportunities;
the scale of contribution to renewable energy generation targets;
effect on greenhouse gas emissions;
cumulative impacts - planning authorities should be clear about likely cumulative impacts arising from all of the considerations below, recognizing that in some areas the cumulative impact of existing and consented energy development may limit the capacity for further development;
impacts on communities and individual dwellings, including visual impact, residential amenity, noise and shadow flicker;
landscape and visual impacts, including effects on wild land;
effects on the natural heritage, including birds;
impacts on carbon rich soils, using the carbon calculator;
public access, including impact on long distance walking and cycling routes and scenic routes identified in the NPF;
impacts on the historic environment, including scheduled monuments, listed buildings and their settings;
impacts on tourism and recreation;
impacts on aviation and defence interests and seismological recording;
impacts on telecommunications and broadcasting installations, particularly ensuring that transmission links are not compromised;
impacts on road traffic;
impacts on adjacent trunk roads;
effects on hydrology, the water environment and flood risk;
the need for conditions relating to the decommissioning of developments, including ancillary infrastructure, and site restoration;
opportunities for energy storage; and
the need for a robust planning obligation to ensure that operators achieve site restoration.
TEG-H supports renewable energy. It is central to the Scottish Government’s planning policy. TEG-H also supports the right sorts of wind turbines in the right places as a valid interim step towards better forms of renewable energy. There are acknowledged reservations about future expansion of onshore wind power. [See, for example, J. Etherington, The Wind Farm Scam, Stacey International, 2009.] In its Third National Planning Framework (2014) the Scottish Government signals its intention to move away from onshore wind to other forms of renewable power in the future.
TEG-H does not engage in the wider debate about the limitations of wind energy. Rather we assess the appropriateness of a wind farm on a hill overlooking Helensburgh mostly on planning and financial grounds, with the prime objective of the long-term welfare of Helensburgh and its surrounding area. After evaluation, TEG-H finds that the evidence is strongly against the proposed wind farm, especially using the criteria given in the A&BC Local Plan and the Scottish Planning Policy 2014).