Forgotten communities are left high and dry by wind farms

Forgotten communities are left high and dry by wind farms

by Ben Acheson
article from Wednesday 24, October, 2012

“WHEN GOVERNMENTS fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny". Former US President Thomas Jefferson had few links to Scotland, but for the growing anti-wind movement, his words could not be more apposite.

Admittedly, branding the SNP Government as a 'tyranny' is a bit extreme. However, increasing numbers of Scots are fearful of their government and its obsession with wind power. Policymakers seem neither to fear nor care for communities who object to the rampant spread of turbines and sanctioning the widespread deployment of offshore turbines is a further slap in the face. Although some precocious observers have highlighted the potential impacts on fishermen and marine animals, many other stakeholders of the sea have been ignored. For Scotland's sailors, the government's offshore plans threaten the very existence of their sport.

Over two million people participate in sailing and other forms of water recreation in the UK. Sailing's popularity has increased exponentially thanks to the triumphant British Olympians. Dundee-born Shirley Robertson raised the profile of sailing in Scotland after taking gold in both the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and the winning tradition continued at the Beijing Olympics and this year in London, with Team GB winning more medals than all other countries at both games.

The perception that sailing is purely a pastime of the rich is slowly being eroded and Scotland's sailing industry is thriving. Sailing tourism contributes around £21 million annually to the economy and Scottish Enterprise estimated that the entire industry is worth around £100 million. Tourism Intelligence Scotland predicted that annual spend on boat tourism could even rise to £145 million by 2020. In June 2011, the Scottish sailing industry received another massive boost, to the tune of £2.2 million, from the European Union’s INTERREG IVA programme, which aims to address economic and social problems around the EU’s borders.

The lucrative sailing industry relies heavily on Scotland's world-renowned, untouched waters surrounded by spectacular scenery. Visit Scotland, the national tourism organisation, agrees that “Scotland's inshore waters are a sailor's paradise - unpolluted waters, quiet anchorages and fantastic coastal scenery.” Its subsidiary, Sail Scotland, thinks Scottish waters are amongst the finest in the world and the “uncrowded” seas and “unspoilt environment” are a haven for sailors. Sail Scotland correctly points out that despite being used for centuries, “man's footprint has been light: land and waters remain pristine.”

Until now.

Just five months after receiving the EU's £2.2 million grant, Scotland’s sailing industry was dealt a death blow by its own government. In November 2011, Fergus Ewing, the SNP’s energy supremo, earmarked fifteen potential sites to develop offshore turbines around Scotland. From Berwickshire up the East coast to Shetland and back down the West coast to the Solway, nowhere has been overlooked. Already, a massive 339 turbine, £4.5 billion array covering 300 km2 of open water in the Moray Firth is in planning. For sailors, the news is devastating.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is understandably concerned about the impacts on their 5,000 members and 3,000 registered yachts. Worryingly, there has been no attempt to gather co-ordinated data regarding the frequency or location of recreational boating around the UK. In the 'Sharing the Wind' report, the RYA highlighted that policymakers forget that a primary attraction of recreational boating is "the peace and tranquillity of the sea and its unspoilt nature". As with visual degradation caused by onshore turbines, the pro-wind lobby will smear such arguments as 'subjective' or a matter of personal opinion, but visual intrusion is not the RYA's only worry.

For sea-farers, turbines create the risk of rotor blade collision and sub-surface structures can be hazardous, particularly if developers use tripod base foundations and scour protection around the tower’s base. Huge steel turbines will wreak havoc on navigational equipment. The RYA fear that large quantities of steel and cabling and the transmission of electricity will interfere with compass readings. The effects on GPS systems are still largely unknown but interference is known to cause a 'smear' across radar screens, effectively blocking out any craft close to or within the array. VHF and mobile phone signal will also suffer, so at the very least, the RYA recommends that turbines be fitted with fog horns for low visibility conditions.

Turbulence created by turbines, limited access to sheltered coastal areas and 'wind shadowing', a phenomenon where depression zones are created after wind flow is perturbed by an obstacle, are other concerns. The RYA has also warned that placing structures on the seabed is likely to have an effect on seabed morphology which may result in shifting sandbanks or silting up of existing channels. These knock-on effects may well result in loss of sailing routes. Wind farm planners must be wary of creating physical obstructions for boaters. They must recognise that sailing boats do not behave in the same manner as power driven craft. Their actual line of travel will usually zigzag across the ultimate direction of travel due to their dependency on wind direction.

Physical obstruction for yachts will not just affect recreational activities. Whilst Scotland is best known for the quality of its cruising waters, it also has an enviable reputation for hosting annual racing events. The premier event is the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Series, which is one of the world’s best yachting regattas, attracting competitors from around the globe. The event is held in the Firth of Clyde, described by Sail Scotland as one of Scotland's most popular sailing and tourist areas and "one of the largest areas of sheltered deep water in the British Isles".

Unfortunately, the Firth of Clyde has not escaped the SNP’s plans and could soon be home to two of the world's largest offshore wind farms, which will shrink the sailing area and destroy many racing zones. The resultant impacts on coastal communities and the local tourist industry would be catastrophic.

Arguments supporting Scotland's sailors will inevitably be dismissed by the pro-wind lobby, many of whom will care little for what is still (wrongly) seen as an elitist pastime for those with money. But political representation is not means-tested and economic income is irrelevant. The simple fact is that this is just another section of society forgotten by the very government that was elected to create and administer public policy on their behalf.

The impacts of offshore turbines on yachtsmen are indicative of the entire wind farm debate. With onshore wind, rarely a second thought was given to homeowners whose properties stood in the way and powerless to act, their homes were eventually enveloped by the march of the turbines. Now, with offshore turbines, communities who rely on the marine environment are being ignored.

The Scottish Government is once again allowing the unchecked deployment of wind energy and they are doing so by riding the wave of environmental hysteria and assuring the electorate that it will provide a cheap and 'green' supply of energy. People are right to fear this government and their ill-conceived energy policy. It is predicated on noble intentions, not achievable results. What was initially a vehicle for electoral gain turned out to be a political juggernaut that is hard to stop. Rather than admit fault, the SNP ploughs on regardless, ignoring public opposition and clear evidence that its policy is unsustainable.

Thankfully, a more coordinated anti-wind lobby is starting to provide a voice for communities who were powerless for so long. But they must do more to turn the tides against offshore wind power. To promote lasting change, the anti-wind movement must heed Thomas Jefferson's words and really put the wind up the Scottish Government.
After all, it was Jefferson who said that "all tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent".

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