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Wind power plans are full of hot air


THE Executive, slavishly following the lead of the Department of Trade and Industry, has mistakenly thirled itself to over-ambitious proposals to replace 40 per cent of Scotland’s electricity system with renewables without being able to articulate any coherent strategy for doing so.

For the foreseeable future, the vast majority of new renewables generating capacity seems likely to be from onshore wind.

There is a fundamental contradiction between energy being reserved to Westminster while renewables policy is devolved.

This botched division of powers frustrates effective strategic decision-making and has resulted in a shambles, placing power in the hands of the producers.

The Executive has given effect to its so-called renewables policy by way of a substantial levy called the Renewables Obligation (Scotland).

The ROS subsidises renewables by financial instruments called Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). The net result is that consumers pay a stealth tax, not to government, but directly to the electricity industry.

Experience already shows that the Executive has misplaced confidence in the ability of a subsidised market to guarantee success.

Ministers seem to expect that a stable nationwide system can be cobbled together by private developers, driven by the incentive of ROS subsidy and the happenstance of willing landlords and easy grid connection.

Issues such as technology balance, transmission losses, security of supply and cumulative environmental impact are hardly considered in any of the official publications. Any reasonable person would conclude that replacement of 40 per cent of the electricity system is likely to have substantial consequences.

Since there is no collaboration among local planning authorities, it is obvious that separate, locally-defined search areas do not add up to a coherent strategy at all.

The Executive should also note the widespread anxiety in the engineering community over current renewables "policy" and it should recognise the potential social and economic consequences of any failure of electricity supply.

Denmark has a wind penetration of approximately 18 per cent, but, despite the advantage of being integrated into the wider European grid, it continues to suffer from grid instability.

The Republic of Ireland, an island grid with a wind penetration of less than seven per cent, currently has a moratorium on connection of new wind power for reasons of stability and security of supply.

MINISTERS’ failure to accept strategic responsibility for this key industry raises serious questions of competence and judgement.

What needs to happen now is for Scottish ministers to cease their piecemeal tinkering with the electricity system until they are able to exhibit a competent strategic plan that includes satisfactory provision for contingency and security of supply.

The Executive’s ambitious renewables proposals are domestic targets only and have no basis in any considered feasibility or other empirical study.

They were ramped up to these heady levels as a result of "greener than thou" posturing by parties vying for political advantage.

It would be tragic if Scotland now suffered unnecessary damage in a wind rush intended to save political face.

Of the technologies likely to be deployed on a large scale, wind is the least effective in the medium or long term. It suffers from low energy density, inability to store electricity and random intermittency.

To be at all effective, wind power must be deployed very extensively and with a disproportionately high environmental impact.

It is at once the lowest quality of all renewables, and the most expensive, when costs of duplicate plant and back-up nuclear and fossil fuels are included.

Despite the wind industry’s grotesquely inflated claims, the prospects for emissions avoidance using wind power are dismal, mainly due to the back-up plant that is generally polluting even when not generating.

Denmark, with the highest penetration of wind in the European Union, has the greatest deficit of any member state in its Kyoto commitments - and its greenhouse gas emissions are rising.

I reject the absurd proposition that a wind rush is a necessary prerequisite for the development of other renewables technologies.

On the contrary, an environmentally damaging and ultimately ineffective deployment of wind power will only alienate the public from the concept of renewables - as it is doing now - and choke off investment vital to the development of superior alternatives.

The wind option incurs extensive adverse environmental impact for the dubious "benefit" of a third-rate duplication technology.

The current folly of wind power is encouraged by the ROC subsidy and the hugely lucrative short-term profits it hands to private developers.

THE UK’s Kyoto commitments are already met and Scotland is - almost uniquely - in the enviable position of being able to look to the long term and practise sustainable development.

It does not have to subsidise a piecemeal, unsustainable and ultimately futile rush for wind.

One has to ask why officials and politicians cannot see that, and it begs the very question of their competence.

Current renewables policy is non-existent, beyond the vague articulation of specious targets which have no meaning.

Wind technology is third-rate, inefficient, unreliable, intermittent, grotesquely imposing and achieves the very opposite of that which is intended.

We are being failed by the Executive and our politicians, who cannot see beyond the "green" chimera of a few whirling pale intruders traversing our countryside, killing our birds, deterring tourists and making the power companies very rich at our expense.

And all the while, power reserves run down, the best technical minds in the country give clear and unambiguous advice of the unpardonable folly of it all, and our leaders choose to take no notice.

John Campbell QC is an advocate at the Scottish Bar