Scottish wind policy has been on a collision course with local democracy for a long time. The Scottish Government has promoted wind energy via target-led, developer-led planning policies instead of a plan-led system with clear restrictions on development, which is what planning is supposed to be about.
Instead there are so many holes in wind planning policy at national level (and often due to expressed or feared central government insistence at local authority level) that to call it a sieve would be to pay it a compliment.
Everything has to be considered on a case-by-case basis and every wind developer argues that his guideline-busting, spatial-plan-busting proposal is a special case, given the overriding nature of the Government’s 2020 renewables targets. Local authorities and reporters are inclined to agree often enough to make repeated punts at several hundred thousand pounds a shot worthwhile.
Scottish Governments have brazenly politicized the consenting process by appropriating the Electricity Act of 1989 to bypass (what remains of) the democratic planning process. The Act allows ministers to consent windfarms over 50 MW (and their extensions) ‘in the national interest’.
It was meant to ensure that NIMBY problems would not stop major power stations, which the country clearly needed, from going ahead. But a 50MW wind farm does not produce anything like the energy of a nuclear power station or even a small gas-fired power station.
In fact while the latter can produce its nameplate capacity or very close to it, no windfarm on earth produces its nameplate capacity for any length of time. Average annual output is very rarely even the 30% of nameplate capacity developers routinely claim and usually closer to 20%. In other words, applying the 1989 Acts to windfarms
whose actual capacity is under 50MW is a democratic cheat to get more windfarms built.
The Scottish Government knows people aren’t happy. As with other troubling aspects of wind development, it has commissioned a study to pilot an alternative model for democratic engagement: citizens’ juries. SAS sits on the stewarding board, and Graham Lang has been a witness for three different juries in different parts of Scotland.
The leader of the research Oliver Escobar is speaking at a public event shortly in Edinburgh which seeks to ‘reclaim local democracy’.
According to an industry publication ‘the wind industry in Scotland is single-mindedly focused on delivering every last ounce of onshore and offshore capacity before the Renewables Obligation goes dark in three years’ time’. As the pace of wind development hots up as never before, the Scottish Government is sitting on its hands. Commissioning studies, laudable as they are, looks like fiddling while Rome burns.
Meanwhile those directly affected are taking matters into their own hands. Various legal actions against wind farm consents are underway following in the trailblazing footsteps of Aileen Jackson, Christine Metcalfe, Sally Carroll, Donald Trump and Sustainable Shetland.
Communities are also rising up. Recently, SAS were at a public meeting of Dunkeld and Birnam Community Council where voters called their local MSP John Swinney to account over allowing their iconic area to be besieged by 10 new wind farm developments.
Swinney tried to hide behind the ministers’ code of conduct and to pretend we have a clear and robust planning system for wind, but residents who already have Griffin and Calliacher windfarms on their doorsteps were not convinced. As this newsletter goes to press, another unprecedented communities’ meeting has been called to resist wind development in the Angus Glens.
The Scottish Government should be in no doubt that community councils the length and breadth of Scotland will be following Dumfries & Galloway’s lead. The cries of ‘Enough is enough!’ and ‘We can’t cope’ are growing. Paid employees in the Scottish Government, local authorities, SNH, SEPA and other official agencies cannot say so publicly but we know many agree.
LINDA HOLT is press officer for Scotland Against Spin