Monday 9 July 2012

Allt Duine, the Monadh Liath & Wind Farms in The Scotsman

The feature I mentioned in this post is now available online on The Scotsman website here. It's the same text as in the printed paper but you miss the little picture of me looking a little windswept with the Allt Duine hills just visible in the dull weather behind me. It's no loss!


  1. Well done, Sir! A good piece.

  2. Good, straight to the point article.

  3. I have to say I have mixed feelings about this article. I of course respect Chris' work on behalf of our wild land, but I'm not really sure the article strikes the right tone.

    For one thing, I find it depressing that one must now preface one's opposition to a particular wind plant by saying 'I'm not anti-wind' to make sure one's 'green' credentials are in order. Lest we forget, it is because of wind, regardless of where it is sited, that we are getting the Beauly-Denny wonder. It is because of wind that the lives of thousands of people across the land have been made a misery. In my corner of the world, Lowland Scotland, we have been fighting to protect our local hill for 9 years. Developers have tried all the tricks in the book, the local authority turns them down and they keep coming back. They're going to appeal yet again and the chances are Fergus Ewing will approve the scheme. So, I'm not in a mood to make any concessions upfront regarding wind. Wind is demonstrably a bad idea. And the argument against it is sound, based on economic, political and environmental grounds.
    If you say wind is good but not here, as Chris does, and then you proceed to point out that the Monadhliath is little visited, you're really shooting yourself in the foot.
    If you say wind is good, they'll tell you that then you cannot oppose building wind plants where it is windy and where there are no houses nearby.
    I predict Allt Duine will be approved on the grounds that 1) it has been established that tourists don't mind turbines; 2) it is far enough from the Cairngorms not to be prominent; 3) the Monadhliath are little frequented and have excellent 'wind resources'.
    Nothing Chris says in the article will count against any of these points. Subtly beautiful, quiet landscape? That's describing hills that are dull and lacking amenity in bureaucratic speak, hills that no-one visits anyway (I doubt Roger Cox's mention that you only met one walker during your hike will help much. You are providing more ammunition to the developer. That's tantamount to admitting that very few people will be directly affected by the development!)
    Mission creep is in full swing and no areas are no-go areas any more. And I submit this is because we have conceded too much ground by saying "renewables" are a good thing. I hope to be proved wrong of course!
    Sorry to strike a sour note but that's my reaction.

  4. Andy, I disagree with you! Of course the tone of the article is Roger Cox's. I didn't write it and it's his distillation of a whole day's conversation.

    However I am not anti-renewables only anti them in the wrong location. I don't think the arguments against wind power in general hold up - it does work and provides power, albeit not as efficiently as its promoters claim.

    At the Highland Council Planning Committee that rejected the application for the wind farm, which has triggered the forthcoming public enquiry, the main opponent of the scheme, SNP councillor Dave Fallows, made an excellent speech about the subtlety, beauty and quietness of the Monadh Liath. That argument can be effective.

    Your point 2 is wrong and one of the main campaigning arguments is in fact thatt he wind farm will be very prominent from the Northern Cairngorms. As I'm quoted as saying in the article it will be in your face.

    Of course there are already wind farms in the Monadh Liath plus a huge new hydro development and more wind farms already have planning permission. The giant Beauly-Denny pylons with adjacent roads are under construction now too (I was the MCofS representative on the Beauly-Denny Landscape Group that fought these pylons and regret greatly that we lost, though I think planning permission would have been given regardless of the result of the public enquiry).

    Overall what I would like to see now is success for the JMT and MCofS campaigns to have defined areas where wind farms are unacceptable.

  5. Hi Chris,

    I know you were very active against the Beauly-Denny upgrade and as I say I respect your efforts to preserve our wild land. I do hope the JMT and MCofS campaign to earmark no-go areas for wind plants succeeds.

    Still, the problem is that if one grants, as you do, that wind power works, then one has got to accept that what takes priority is providing the required load base. And that means thousands of turbines going up somewhere.

    Offshore wind remains expensive and the evidence from active offshore wind plants is that maintenance costs are horrendous. So, there will continue to be pressure to build onshore plants. And I doubt Holyrood will ever concede that there are no-go areas for wind.

    The Borders and the Southern Highlands have already taken huge hits and they've reached saturation point. Most of the new proposals are now very near habitation and that creates additional problem. It's not just loss of visual amenity or damage to peat bogs. It's noise and shadow flicker issue. And it is now being conceded by developers that they are running out of suitable sites.

    They now need to move into areas where previously they would not have dared. Encroachment is already happening (even Torridon and Assynt are now being reached), and the views from the Northern Corries are already compromised.

    I fervently hope you're right and that Fergus Ewing will do the right thing, but I'm not holding my breath.

  6. I think a big problem is too much reliance on wind power rather than a mix of renewables. Offshore wind is growing and costs seem to be coming down.

    I don't think saying wind doesn't work has any effect. No wind farm has ever been stopped on this basis. Wind farms have been stopped due to potential damage to the landscape and wildlife. Fergus Ewing (who is my MSP) turned down one in Caithness recently specifically because of the landscape).

    I think thousands more wind turbines will be built. The question is where they will be.

  7. Well, Chris, as you know the Caithness refusal was the first in years. Most appeals/central decision are just rubber-stamped by Holyrood.

    On the general point, however, I find it curious that you should say it's OK to build turbines at, say, Crystal Rig but not at Allt Duine. Cairngorm is the only hill in Scotland with a restaurant and a railway. There is all the ski paraphernalia in full sight too, so it's hardly a wild situation. And yet you object to a wind plant that would be 'in your face' in that sort of already degraded situation.

    The Lammermuir (and I'm picking just one case) were an area of considerable wildness, providing an escape into the wild for Edinburgh people and locals within a few miles' drive. It was a very carbon-friendly way to go away from it all.

    I've camped very happily on those hills before the wind madness that you so heartily approve of came along to divide this country as few things before have. If I want to have the same experience of 'what it feels like' being in the wild, as you put it in the Scotsman, I have now have to drive hundreds of miles looking for the few areas left of comparable wildness.

    You're right that in the present system the only things that are relevant from a planning point of view are amenity, visual impact and the like. There is a presumption built into the planning system that any wind development is to be supported and objectors cannot challenge policy at that level, which is very unfair indeed.

    But my point was that one has to challenge the wind energy policy over and above individual applications. By contrast, you clearly are a very enthusiastic supporter of wind, as long as it doesn't happen around where you live or in the other few wild places left.

    Those of us living in Southern Scotland, who previously had wonderfully pristine hills, much quieter and much wilder than anything up North, if the truth be told, have instead got to put up with "thousands of turbines" that will in the long run bankrupt this country.

    I'll shut up now, but I just wish you would consider the coherence of your position a little more closely.

    As I say, I'm fully respectful of the sterling work you've done over the years on behalf of wild land in Scotland, but. with respect, on this one I think you need to think more carefully about your position.


  8. I hope that the Caithness refusal is a sign of a change at Holyrood.

    I've never said it's okay to build turbines at Crystal Rig. I didn't know about this at the time and would probably have objected if I had. I have opposed wind farms in the Southern Uplands and written about the impact they have - I hiked the Southern Upland Way and the Annandale Way last year.

    My position is perfectly coherent. I think the all or nothing approach to wind turbines - saying they are wrony anywhere - is futile and will result in them covering more wild land as it's easily defeated. I think making location the key is the way to reduce the number of wind farms in the hills.

    The situation at Cairn Gorm is another matter. I was involved in the campaigns against extending the ski resort into Lurchers Gully, which we won, and against the funicular, which we lost. I would be happy to see the whole resort removed. However my "in your face" comment applies to the Northern Corries, the highest parts of Rothiemurchus Forest, Braeriach, Sgor Gaoith and many other places than Cairn Gorm itself. If Allt Duine goes ahead all these will lose some of their wild feel.

    I am not a very enthusiastic supporter of wind, I just think it has a place to play in a mix of energy sources. I am opposed to turbines in any wild places including the Southern Uplands.

  9. Thanks for that, Chris. Now I'm clearer about your position! And I'm very pleased you're opposed to what has been happening down South. Which leaves the question of where those thousands of turbines will be built!

    I hope you're right the recent Caithness refusal is a sign of change.

    There is one option that I think should be explored by those who campaign against ill-suited locations for wind plants while being generally supportive of wind. And it's to ask for a pause in the current rush until better technology is developed. You will have seen that one of the submissions to the Holyrood enquiries was pointing out a different design for wind turbines that would have a far more contained environmental impact.

    The point is: if there is a good argument that wind is the long-term answer to our energy problems, then we'd better take our time and make sure we get the right design for the turbines. There are prototypes at a fairly advanced stage---I'm talking about this stuff:

    In other words, instead of waiting to fight single applications, we should be pro-active and attack the Vesta monopoly on wind turbine design that seems to have Salmond completely captive.

    Anyway, needless to say, I support your stance against Allt Duine and remain grateful for all your hard work!

    Maybe once the weather improves you could do like John Muir and take Salmond and Ewing on a wee camping trip for a night under the stars (or under your Trailstar!) and see if they hear the call of the wild!

  10. I think a moratorium on wind farms in wild places would be a good idea until there is a proper plan as to where they can and can't go. Looking at turbine design is important too. But in the meantime I do think individual proposals should be fought. Allt Duine is bad in itself but is so close to the national park that it could set a dangerous precedent.

    I'd love to take politicians up the hills! Fergus Ewing should know better anyway. He's a hillwalker and used to be a member of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue.

    Whilst I think wind will be part of the mix I think energy conservation, tidal, wave, solar and hydro are all important. There's definitely too much attention and money given to wind.