A key planning restriction to the proliferation of wind farm developments over a large sweep of the Borders should be lifted.
That is the recommendation of a working group set up by the Scottish Government as it strives to meet ambitious renewable energy targets.
Currently, there is an absolute ban on any turbines within a 10km radius of the Ministry of Defence’s seismic monitoring station at Eskdalemuir in Dumfriesshire.
Under proposals about to go out to public consultation – and endorsed by the working group – that exclusion zone will be extended to 15km.
It is an embargo which acknowledges the station’s vital role in the UK’s observance of an international nuclear test ban treaty and recognises that its detection capabilities can be compromised by the sound vibrations emitted by wind turbines.
But the bad news for Borderers who believe the region has already reached saturation point for wind farms is that an existing MoD “consultation zone”, within a 50km radius of Eskdalemuir, is to disappear.
In effect, a 35km-wide expanse of land, the bulk of which lies in this region, will be opened up to renewable energy companies without fear of MoD dissent.
Settlements in that swathe include Peebles, Innerleithen, Galashiels, Selkirk, Melrose, Jedburgh and Newcastleton.
The MoD will no longer have the role of statutory consultee and Scottish Borders Council will no longer be able to cite ministry misgivings as a reason for refusal of a wind farm planning bid.
The proposal acknowledges a technical revision by the MoD and its setting of a new permissible “noise budget” which is enshrined in the recommendations of the working group.
Announcing that these are about to go out to consultation, The Scottish Government admits they will “maximise the potential development of wind energy generation in the wider radius area”. Experts from Keele University, who have been advising the MoD, predict that a further 1.6gigawatts (GW) of wind farm generation – enough to power 20 per cent of all Scotland’s electricity needs – can now safely be accommodated within the freed-up zone.
A spokesperson for SBC, which has around 90 potential wind farm projects in the planning pipeline, this week described the zonal re-think as “a potentially contentious subject”.
“SBC is aware that the Scottish Government consultation on proposals to widen [to 15km] the current 10km radius exclusion zone around the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array and to ‘free up’ the noise budget outwith that area is due to begin soon,” said the spokesperson.
“We will carry out our own discussions and give a formal response within the consultation period.
“We have already been in dialogue with the MoD, neighbouring local authorities and other agencies to consider the implications of the changes should they be introduced.”