THESouthern asked a number of high profile figures whether they feel wind power is a viable option for our future energy needs and, if the answer to that question was “yes”, whether the visual impact that giant turbines have on the local landscape is a price worth paying.
Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre is the SBC’s spokesperson for planning and development and says as a local elected politician she is deeply concerned about the amount of subsidy which wind farms seem to absorb.
“It might be more accurate to describe them as subsidy harvesters. It seems wrong that, thanks to the Labour government, we are cutting here, there and everywhere, yet these subsidy harvesters carry on reeling in their millions,” she said. “It would be most interesting to know how many applications might come forward if the subsidy was removed.
“If there was no subsidy then it is reasonable to assume that a wind farm application coming forward would be truly sustainable – i.e. not having to be shored up with external funding.
“If wind farms were a reliable source of clean, cheap energy then they might be a landscape sacrifice worth making. Yet how reliable is the source of this power?
“So, do I think that wind farms are viable and sustainable? Let’s remove the subsidy and see.”
However, when it comes to being a member of the planning committee, Councillor Riddell-Carre says wind farm applications have to be considered purely in line with planning policies.
“The subsidy – or lack of it – cannot be a factor in our considerations because we have to decide on planning grounds alone.
“Talking then about our policies – we have accepted wind farms where they were not considered to detract unduly from the landscape. It is maddening when we reject an application on planning grounds to have some reporter come along and overturn our decision because of the Scottish Government’s passion for them.
“It has been tempting to simply say: ‘Let’s stop determining wind farm applications and let the Scottish Government determine the lot’.
“Nevertheless even when a reporter does overturn one of our decisions, they do usually incorporate the conditions negotiated by SBC, so our work isn’t a complete waste of time. And, just sometimes, they do uphold our decision as happened at the Dunion (near Jedburgh).
“Wind farmers get round the local authority now by submitting applications for very large wind farms because these are determined directly by the Scottish government.”
John Lamont, Conservative MSP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, believes enough is enough when it comes to wind farms in this region.
“What we need is a mixed energy policy which includes renewables, but which also ensures we have a secure base load. I am therefore very clear that our energy supply should also include nuclear power. Wind farms can form part of that mix but they need to be located in the right place.
“I understand the various pressures that farmers and landowners are under to diversify their land use, but I think there is now a strong case for saying that the Borders already has its fair share of wind farms.”
His Scottish parliamentary colleague, Lib Dem MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, Jeremy Purvis, says any new energy generation in the Borders should have a substantial community ownership.
“Ownership of generation is far preferable to a system that has developed in an ad hoc way of developer contributions. If this has been in place at the start of the development of wind farms a decade ago then we would have been receiving more than £30million for local communities if a 10 per cent of ownersip of the generation had been in place,” he said.
“This has been a huge missed opportunity for the Borders and would have begun, I believe, a more robust debate about our needs and our desires. In addition I have been campaigning for a community buy-back arrangement that would allow locally-generated energy to be bought back in what the regulator Ofgem call ‘off grid’ contracts.
“This could have been for public buildings first and then for those living in social housing, and the wider public. Cheaper locally generated energy could have transformed the debate.
“Instead we have application after application for farms in my constituency without any strategic view to what regional capacity may be. When I learned that the amount of energy generated by onshore wind in my constituency was more than in any other in Scotland, and that more onshore wind energy is generated per 1,000 people in the Borders than anywhere else, I met the Scottish minister to discuss.
“I wanted the Scottish Government to carry out work that could determine regional capacity. I was profoundly disappointed by the indifference to the real issue that there is no view about whether regional capacity can be incorporated into planning policy and I was also a little alarmed that there was no interest in doing work on a national spatial review from the Government to consider areas where there is cumulative capacity.
“I was alarmed as this was in the 2007 SNP manifesto but nothing has been done. Between the council and the Scottish Government, the Borders has missed exciting opportunities in establishing a way forward that could have gained considerable public support and also have generated real resource for what has so far been approved, and also been an objective view as to where the limit should now be for any more onshore wind.”
Pip Tabor, of the Southern Upland Partnership, says the organisation’s view is that the Borders and the rest of southern Scotland are not getting enough back from wind development in return for the impact the area is having to accept.
“The main beneficiaries are the developers who are making big profits from ‘our’ wind. The – voluntary – funding for communities is poor and is often divisive,” he told us.
“Wind farms could be helping rural communities deal with a range of issues so that there is a lasting legacy to keep them going when the wind-rush is over. Communities could be taking a stake in the developments and thereby benefit significantly.”
Borders MP Michael Moore is a supporter of onshore wind farms, as long as they are part of a mix of renewable energy sources, including tidal, wave, biomass, solar and others.
However, he believes the right balance has to be struck with responsibility to protect the countryside.
“I do not support a blanket covering of the Borders in wind farms and have taken an active role in arguing that Scottish Borders Council develops a wind farm strategy with a view to their numbers and geographical spread in the constituency.
“Over the past year I have met with senior officials at Scottish Borders Council in charge of wind farm policy as they develop their strategy, which is currently under consultation, with the aim of ensuring that, when considering future applications for wind farms, the cumulative impact of all the wind farms in the Borders will be taken into account.”