no such thing as … clean energy?

I am learning biofuels and biomass power stations cause ‘perverse incentives’  – with local and global damaging economic and ecological consequences.

Or here is a pdf of one of Biofuelwatch’s many useful briefings: briefing-paper-bioenergy_final_1

An image of a wind turbine – standing as a modernistic elegant white tower on an (unnaturally) green sward is seductive – an iconic image to balance the distressing sight of a polar bear on a shrinking iceberg.

Still, there are problems in how this is put into practice: – these notes will be expanded pending further info, but here are some points relevant to the Borders produced by a local forum. Questions of social equity are raised.

• The Southern Uplands are a key target area for wind farm developers because of the significant wind resource, the proximity of grid connections and the relatively easy access to the hill-tops. Within Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, South Lanarkshire and southern Ayrshire there are already 24 functioning wind farms with 2 being constructed. Another 13 have been consented and there are at least 40 in the planning process. There will no doubt be more in the pre-scoping stage.

• The Government urgently needs to look at what might be done to balance the national benefits of exploiting wind energy and the local costs to the economy.

• What will the impacts be on tourism to southern Scotland? Will walkers on the Southern Upland Way want to walk through a landscape where there is always a turbine in view? This will become the case – so will the long distance route survive? Will walkers or turbines generate most local economic benefit in the future?

• What are the current economic benefits of wind farm developments? At present the only significant benefit coming to southern Scotland is in the form of the voluntary contributions made by developers to local communities in the form of a “community benefit fund”. The size of this fund varies depending on the developer and the negotiation skills of the communities involved. The “industry standard” appears to be about £2000 per Megawatt installed (some deals have exceeded this). This amount is usually index-linked for a 25-year period. For local communities this can seem significant sum – but it is much less if considered as a proportion of the profits made by the companies.

• What jobs are created? Very few local job opportunities arise from the construction and maintenance of wind farms. The local landowners gain from the rents paid but much of the upland is in the ownership of very few people, so the local benefits of this are questionable.

• Wind farms are a key part of the Government’s drive to address climate change and increase renewable energy generation, and promote behaviour to reduce carbon emissions. However there is no obvious link between the construction of the wind farm and the energy used locally (other than a tenuous tie-in to the size of some community benefit funds). Thus the wind farms can be viewed as constructions that benefit high consuming urban populations, despoiling an otherwise pristine landscape. If the link between wind energy generation and local energy use could be reinforced, people might see them as being part of the solution, rather than a new problem. This could be done in a number of ways. Community ownership of a turbine (or a whole wind farm) is one way that has been successfully demonstrated elsewhere. Making a more direct link with energy generally is another. This could be by helping communities improve their energy efficiency through insulation or more efficient boilers. Specific support for the installation of income-generating renewable energy technologies such as PV cells, micro-hydro or biomass would also create a valuable legacy.

• While some communities have achieved great things, but many – maybe most – lack the confidence necessary to develop such proposals. If more expert local support could be offered, many more such developments would result. This facilitation could be supported by the wind farm companies if they were obliged to put a little more back into the rural areas they are currently exploiting.

We may be tempted to think that the internet saves energy. In 2009, this was raised as an issue, but seems to have dipped from sight. Sorry but, I still feel uneasy when I receive video downloads of folk’s winter holidays. While individual products might be getting more efficient, overall we are still consuming more energy. Some figures have it that the internet is as big a consumer as aviation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: