April 19, 2006

Scottish “wind rush” whips up enthusiasm and anger

By Andrew Gray

MOFFAT (Reuters) - Driving from England into Scotland, one
of the first sights to catch the eye amid the green hills and
pine trees could one day be a series of giant wind turbines,
each higher than London landmark Big Ben.

The planned project would be an apt welcome sign from a
region in the grip of a "wind rush."

Dozens of wind farms are up and running with hundreds more
planned as developers scramble to take advantage of Scotland's
blustery climate and lucrative subsidies for renewable energy.

Local businesses, environmentalists and politicians see a
chance for Scotland, with its abundant wind and other renewable
resources, to lead the world in finding ways to cut the carbon
emissions that are widely blamed for global warming.

"Scotland's the Saudi Arabia of the renewables industry,"
declared Maf Smith of trade body Scottish Renewables Forum, who
says the country is the windiest in Europe.

But enthusiasts face opposition from activists who say
their disapproval is more than the usual cry of "not in my back

Apart from the impact on scenery, they say wind power will
not make a serious dent in carbon emissions as it is
intermittent and needs to be backed up with thermal power.

They see the drive for wind power as little more than a
state-sponsored scam to make money for power firms.

Wind power emits virtually no greenhouse gases, which is
one factor helping it grow faster than any other alternative
energy in a power-hungry world grappling with global warming.

"When I first started hearing about wind, I thought 'that
sounds nice'," said Sarah Burchell, who runs an organic farm
with her husband near the town of Moffat in southern Scotland.

After utility company ScottishPower announced plans in 2004
to build one of Scotland's biggest wind farms near Burchell's
home, she studied the issue and changed her mind.

"I think it's absolutely not a sustainable or appropriate
technology," she said in a bustling cafe in Moffat, a small
town near the M74 motorway which links Scotland and England.


Burchell and others in this area named the Forest of Ae
formed a group called "Trees Not Turbines" to oppose the
project, which would put 71 turbines among the pine trees here.

Each turbine would stand 125 metres (410 feet) high from
its base to the tip of a rotor in its highest position.

The activists' campaign helped force a public inquiry,
which is due to start in June.

For supporters of wind power, such delays to planning
applications mean Scotland could be blowing big opportunities.

"Often it can be a very tortuous, long drawn-out process,"
said Smith, chief executive of the Renewables Forum. "We don't
think that helps anybody."

The pros and cons of wind and other renewable sources are
being examined as part of a government energy policy review.

Ministers have already made clear they favor a mix of
energy sources, including nuclear generation, and aim to make
renewable power a growing part of that mix.

They want 10 percent of Britain's electricity to come from
renewable sources by 2010. Scotland -- home to around 5 million
of Britain's 60 million people -- has set much loftier targets,
aiming for 18 percent by 2010 and 40 percent by 2020.

Industry figures believe that is achievable. Scotland
already has substantial hydro power and they see its blustery
climate and long coastline as ideal for harnessing energy from
tides, waves and offshore wind.

But onshore wind farms are the most advanced technology and
must provide the lion's share of the effort, they say.

"Wind energy is certainly where it's at the moment," said
Smith, adding that around 15 percent of the electricity
Scotland uses already comes from renewable sources.


Big environmental groups, despite their roots in local
protests, are lining up with energy firms to back wind power.

"Sadly, many wind farms are failing to get built because of
small but vocal local opposition groups," says yes2wind.com, a
Web site run by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF.

Opponents of wind farms say this alliance may be well-
intentioned but it is not well-informed.

"The problem with wind power is you don't know when it's
going to come and when it's going to go," said David Bruce,
chairman of anti-wind power umbrella group Views of Scotland.

His group says wind cannot be a major energy source as
thermal power will always be needed to back it up.

It also fears one of Scotland's greatest resources -- its
wild landscapes which attract tourists -- will be harmed by
both wind farms and new taller pylons to transport renewable

Wind power's backers say electricity networks can cope with
fluctuations in supply and that methods of predicting wind are
improving. Wind may not replace thermal power stations entirely
but it can greatly reduce their output, they argue.

For them, beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- many
people like the giant windmills, they say, and new pylons
planned for the Highlands will be taller but fewer in number.

The two sides will have another chance to do battle at the
public inquiry in Moffat.

"We are confident with this one," declared Alan Mortimer,
ScottishPower's head of renewables policy. "These large wind
farms -- on the few locations that they're viable -- are needed
together to make their contribution to the (energy) targets."

Anti-wind campaigners are hopeful the inquiry chairman will
back them, taking heart from the rejection last month of plans
for a wind farm at Whinash in England's scenic Lake District.

"Whinash has shown that it can be won," Burchell said,
standing in tranquil countryside near her farm. "He will see
that this is not an appropriate place for a wind power plant."