Avoiding landscape of turbines

A BALANCE between the renewable energy produced by windfarms and protection of the region’s landscape, tourism and economy needs to found and Scottish Borders Council hope that their updated guidance will do just that.

This, however, is easier said than done.

With the new Scottish Government’s 2020 renewable electricity target raised to 100 per cent and the First Minister Alex Salmond pledging to move “still faster and further” to secure Scotland’s place as the green energy powerhouse of Europe the pressure is on for wind farm applications to be approved and for them to start producing electricity as soon as possible.

Windfarms applications have divided communities and areas like the Lammermuirs have proved particularly popular with developers.

SBC councillors are aware of “the major concerns regarding the increasing number of wind farm proposals in the Scottish Borders and the increasing size of individual turbines”.

The new guidance will be used to decide on wind farm applications that go to Scottish Borders Council for approval, but even though the council’s measures are in line with national guidance, the Scottish Government has overturned the decisions by local councillors when they have refused an application, pushing ever onwards towards their renewable energy goal.

Proposed windfarms producing more that 50 megawatts of energy require consent from the Scottish Government.

After being re-appointed as First Minister Alex Salmond said last week: “Because the pace of development has been so rapid, with our 2011 target already exceeded, we can now commit to generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s own electricity demand from renewable resources by 2020. By then we intend to be generating twice as much electricity as Scotland needs - just over half of it from renewables, and just under half from other conventional sources.

“We will be exporting as much electricity as we consume. So we will continue to work with industry and governments at local, UK and European level to build on what we have achieved.

“We will now move still further and faster to secure our place as the green energy powerhouse of the continent of Europe.

“Offshore wind will play a key role in achieving our ambitions.”

Over its previous four-year term, the Scottish Government consented 42 renewable energy projects.

In 2009 more than a quarter of electricity demand came from renewables and the country has already exceeded its interim target of 31 per cent of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables in 2011.

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre, SBC’s executive member for planning and the environment, said of their new guidelines: “This is one of the most important pieces of work this council has undertaken in recent times.

“There is widespread concern about where wind farms are built in the Borders. This updated guidance considers issues such as the potential impact turbines would have on iconic viewpoints, important transport corridors and walking routes as well as the accumulative impact of wind farms.”

SBC believes that identifying broad areas which might be suitable for wind farms and those areas where signicant protection is required - areas with historical, environment, and aviation constraints - will be helpful to both potential wind farm developers and opponents of proposed schemes.

However, a 10km exclusion zone around the Ministry of Defence seismic testing station at Eskdalemuir impacts on part of the Borders and a further 50km safeguarding area restricts the type and scale of wind turbines in an area as far north as Peebles, east as far as Melrose and Jedburgh and south to Carlisle.

Once these exclusion and safeguarding areas, plus the area of signicant protection are taken into account it leaves particular sections of the Borders as being suitable, and for those living in the Lammermuirs, and in a corridor near the A1 that takes in Cockburnsapth, Grantshouse and up into East Lothian it will come as no surprise that it is one of only a number of restricted areas in the region where there are fewer hurdles to overcome for windfarm developers.

Within the updated windfarm development guidance approved by SBC, the document does say: “It should be noted Scottish Borders Council has raised concerns regarding the cumulative impact of turbines within the Lammermuir Hills.”

But over the next couple of weeks the number of exhibitions and public inquiries into proposed wind farms in the eastern Lammermuir area show how attractive it is to windfarm developers.

Public exhibitions of current windfarm proposals: Penmanshiel - Thursday, May 26 (10am-1pm and 3pm-8pm) at Grantshouse Village Hall, Friday, May 27 (3pm-8pm) at Coldingham Village Hall, and Saturday, May 28 (11am-4pm) at Cockburnspath Village Hall; for a 20 turbine windfarm at Quixwood Moor are being held in Grantshouse Village Hall on Tuesday, May 31 and in Preston Village Hall on June 1; a public inquiry is being held in Haddington on June 27 into the proposed extension of the Aikengall/Wester Dod windfarm in the eastern Lammermuirs - an additional 22 turbines with a blade height of 145 metres - and a recently published environment report can currently be read at libraries in Duns and Dunbar.