The Human Race and its Stewardship of the Environment

The Monaliadth posts have got me thinking about our responsibilities to the natural world and the need to make better sense of these thoughts. Apologies, but I use blog posts to help me do this! A long a provocative post follows!

My personal approach to wild land is built on John Muir’s philosophy. But Muir was living in a very different world. Is his philosophy really up to the demands of the modern world?

First off, I should make it clear that I believe Climate Change to be a major problem. We consume too much in fossil fuels. Even those who don’t accept Change itself have to appreciate the finite nature of our resources. We may now be at Peak Oil or we might be in a few years. But whether we have peaked or not it seems to be the case that we simply cannot increase oil production any more. Yet there seem to be few limits to the rise in consumption as China, South America India and next Africa expand their economies. Business fantasies about clean coal but we have no significant carbon capture plant anywhere in the world. Nuclear development has never properly accounted for its true costs of development and operation. Its safety problems have not been solved and have you ever looked at the nations who have the biggest uranium resources? They are hardly stable.

Consumption is key. We should be limiting consumption. Renewable energy is important but in reality it too rests within a complicated commercial world. Renewable energy is not free. In terms or you and me we would all get more benefit if expenditure on renewables was put into better home standards and measures to make housing more energy efficient. But we are too wedded to markets.

The author Jonathan Frantzen addresses many of these issues in his new novel Freedom. One of his leading characters — an environmentalist — points out that renewable companies like to show pictures of nice landscapes that are enhanced by one or two pretty looking turbines. And to be fair we have all seen landscapes like that. But, as Frantzen points out, these brochures and images are myths. Nobody ever gives an artist impression of how many turbines would need to be on that hillside if we are to meet renewable targets.

And here is the first key point to absorb.

The Scottish Government has set a target for renewable production. Over this coming decade they are planning for 80% of electricity consumption to be met by renewables.

Fantastic. But 80% of what. 80% of predicted energy need is what we are talking about, not 80% of reduced consumption.

In September Alex Salmond said:

“Scotland is blessed with abundant natural energy sources, particularly in our seas, where Scotland is estimated to have a quarter of Europe’s potential wind and tidal energy capacity and a tenth of its wave resource. We are already on the path to a low carbon economy – Scotland gets nearly a quarter of it electricity from green sources.

“Scotland is ideally-placed to help lead the renewables revolution and taking account of the levels of planned investment over the next decade, I believe it is now time to aim higher and to go further.

“Recent work by Scottish Enterprise has shown the huge potential for employment in the renewable industry, with up to 28,000 direct jobs being created to service the Scottish, UK and worldwide markets for offshore wind turbines. It has also been estimated that 60,000 new green jobs could be created by 2020 in low carbon industries

“Strong leadership is needed across government and industry to attract the investment to deliver these jobs, so the Scottish Government is today raising the renewable generation target for 2020 to 80 per cent.

This is an economic development argument and not an environmental one. It may be legitimate to some extent. But it recognises the reality that we chose to deal with these issues within a capitalist construct.

The point about capitalism is that it has no limits. It strives to do what it strives to do which is why regulation is so important. But our approach to regulation is in itself an economic response. Remember it is only a few years ago that we were being told by business that the best regulation for banking and financial services involved less regulation. Politicians bought this because the dream — of always getting something for nothing — was just too powerful.

Our whole approach to renewables and the cutting of carbon is market based.

Think of carbon credits, designed to create a new kind of commodity market. The carbon market has hardly been a great success but we are told this is because the initial credits were not high enough, that the allocation of credits were too tight. Only the Greens have been clear that this carbon market is nuts. It will never work.

But if carbon credits work at a European (or wider) level what about closer to home?

What about Feed-in Tariffs? They must be good? Well, they are to some extent but just think about what they are. Electricity producers must guarantee to purchase micro generated power at an artificial price over a contracted time regardless of the cost. This is in effect a business tax. It might be a good tax but we are lulled into feeling good about it because we thing there is a personal benefit to ourselves. Of course, I’m not against these tariffs and I’m considering using them myself. But the whole scheme is artificial. We cannot mention the tax word these days. On Channel 4 news the other night they had to explain the concept of Income Tax and fairness. To oldies like me this is laughable but in reality income tax has been seen as evil since 1979!

We are attempting to create another pseudo market mechanism.

The expansion of wind power is undoubtedly market based. Landowners get an income for land that is pretty much useless for anything expect deer of grouse. Land that was an amenity, a status symbol now has greater utility. As someone pointed out to me the other day if there had been sea owners to benefit from development we would have invested much more in tidal power. But the problem with tides is that there is not such a direct benefactor. I can see how you raise money on markets for the exploitation of land. We won’t exploit the sea until a market mechanism has been developed to match technological innovation.

Now this is not really meant to be a rant but a considered view.

We will need more renewable power. Much of it will come from wind even if we should be equally focussed on cutting consumption. But we do need to come back to John Muir.

Is it right that we should protect wild land and wilderness? Should a mark of the human race be that it is advanced enough to leave well alone?

Well, yes. While Muir was living in a different age his philosophy still holds true.

But how many people properly appreciate the real level of challenges?

Consider the Monaliadth ridge that we have been talking about this week. Who knows it is there and who knows how beautiful it is? Only a handful of us! The irony is that if there was a road along the top of it there would probably be outrage at the proposal!

The real challenge of all of this stuff is for us to find ways of repackaging Muir’s message for a new generation. Do I know how to do it? No. But I am sure that it needs to be done.

VickiT has commented on my Chilly Wind post:

“Sometimes I feel as though I’m the only person in the Highlands who finds wind turbines beautiful and awe-inspiring. Far from detracting from the landscape, I feel they add to its remote, austere beauty. Few experiences have compared with walking through the Novar wind farm above Evanton, for making me feel small in the big wide world”.

I have often felt the same way. But Vicki is romancing about something of a scale that is way out of line with what is planned. Ultimately this is a political issue and one which needs some political education.

I have put all of this in a global perspective. I don’t believe a market approach will do much more than give us a more efficient set of industries and profits. I’m not against profit or business. I have one myself. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. But things go beyond even this in Scotland. What I have issue with here is an economic view of economic and nation development that is being foisted on us by the Scottish government. They are adopting a far more extreme position than many of the European leaders in Western Europe.

This year I drove along French autoroutes from the South West to Paris. Those of you who have been in this part of the world will know that it is very flat and windy. I drove happily past mile after mile of wind turbines sitting alongside agricultural land. (Let’s leave the issue of agribusiness for now!). The weather was gorgeous. The sun shone. The fields were vivid yellow for sunflowers and ripening grain. The turbine did indeed enhance the whole feel of the environment. If I had driven South I would have seen the foothills of the Pyrenees festooned with gorgeous, slow moving windmills. But if I’d ventured into the mountain habitat would I have found them. No? The French system of government — and philosophy of life — simply wouldn’t put up with it even outside of the Pyrenees National Park. The same balance can be seen everywhere.

The Scottish government is not planning this kind of French development it is looking to do something else.

Campaigns and arguments must focus again on the simple Muir principles of what is right and what is our responsibility. Campaigns need to somehow get over the scale of development. Images of pretty turbines need to be countered with images of many, many turbines. Campaigns need to focus on the real world and not these devious ‘targets’. Why are we planning to increase consumption? Why re we prepared to waste billions on underpinning pseudo markets? Why are we prepared to see Green industries be created just to put more money in the pockets of those who already have too much!

So I will wish the campaigners all the best, so long as they don’t get too loony. We do need wind turbines and the position as laid out by the John Muir Trust in their objections is just about right.

This is a political issue. We might laugh about Donald Trump and his barmy plans but I reckon Alex Salmond would be more at home dinner with him than with Cameron Macneish — actually, I’ve had dinner with Cameron and I might prefer dinner with Trump :-)

But to be serious for a minute, we cannot ignore the politics. Campaign with the Lib Dems (yes even them) and with Labour in Scotland. Get the Muir message out into the mainstream of Scottish and UK political debate. At the very least, Danny Alexander should be encouraged to show solidarity with his neighbours who do not have National Park protection.

Good campaigns not only spread positive messages, they se tout to hold people to account.

80% of Scottish energy from renewables within a decade! That is one hell of a lot of windmills and dams! Perhaps even us romantics should start to think about what this looks like!

Rant off !!!

Comments

  1. Andy, it’s fun to rant! I agree with many of your points, but you left out an important issue: population growth.

    You can discourage consumption all you want (whether by market means or coercion), but as the world gets bigger, we must consume just to keep a light bulb on.

    Here are my thoughts that you might appreciate:

    http://francistapon.com/Travels/Continental-Divide-Trail/On-Being-Human

  2. Hi Andy

    On a more positive note I think you have it absolutely spot on. At the end of the day we get the politicians we deserve and if we want to change things for the good then we *have* to be engaged with them to make them realise that there is an alternate point of view worth considering.
    An entire industry of lobbyists depends on this for their livelihoods.

    Presently, the outdoors world is lobbying very poorly – it is fragmented and does not get the support it deserves or needs from the hillwalking public because, sadly (up until now, perhaps?) they are always prepared to say that this or that is dreadful but (as a rule) are not prepared to do anything about it.

    I think we have found in you an ideal candidate to take this forward to support the John Muir Trust and their Wild Land Campaign.

    I will give you a call.

    Well done, Andy!

  3. Patrick Vincent says:

    The tragedy is that wild places are wild precisely because there was little economic value in developing them in the past. This is now their achilles heel when renewables are proposed. Having little economic value (in the traditional sense), the market system sees them as the ideal place to build windfarms.

    I am in favour of the development of renewable energy. I just wish that the planners took account of things other than ‘economic value’. If they did, then they would be prepared to site windfarms in other areas, even if these areas were more expensive and not quite as windy.

    It’s not just the market system at fault. It’s the co-option of the political process by powerful economic interests (eg Trump) that concerns me more, as it’s the political system that should be protecting us from the market.

    I agree with you about reducing energy consumption, but I wonder whether any person or political group has the moral authority or leadership to be able to sell this to the public?

    The more I think about it, the more depressed I become!

  4. Patrick Vincent says:

    There’s an interesting environmental campaigning group called Client Earth. It noticed that governments (or the EU) had passed environmental legislation, but the legislation wasn’t being implemented. It uses the legal system to force governments to implement green policies. It therefore has a relatively big impact, even though it is a small organisation.

    ‘Protecting wild land’ is never going to generate widescale public support. So perhaps we should be thinking about clever & unusual campaigning methods like this.

  5. andy (not ye) says:

    Andy,
    Some good points but also things to take issue with:
    — seabeds belong to the Crown so there’s money to be made from tidal and offshore wind and the Crown will make money in due course. Chief reason why these things haven’t taken off are technical. Turbines frequently break down and maintenance is really tough where strong tidal currents exist.

    — you omit one point: the greatest absurdity of Salmon’s grand plan is that most of the money that is going to be made out of wind will go abroad. Energy companies and turbines manufacturers are all foreign (Clegg’s wife stands to make a nice profit out of her husband’s enthusiasm for wind).

    — Uranium: much of what you’re saying comes straight from the Guardian’s pages. Take a look at this page:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/03/china-claims-new-nuclear-technology
    You’ll see that the Chinese seem to have sorted the waste problem. Nuclear is the cheapest, safest, greenest way to produce electricity. Full stop. The long-standing demonisation of nuclear by the Left (apart when it comes to Iran) is at the root of many of the problems we now face in terms of energy security.
    — And talking of energy security: China owns much of the rare earth mines that are needed (2 tonnes per turbine) to produce the magnets in the nacelles of wind turbines. By going for wind, we place ourselves in their hands. If you like their human rights record, be my guest and welcome our dependence on wind.
    — Regulation: some of the most damaging decisions in environmental terms have been taken by the EU bureaucrats (bio-fuels etc.) and the current wind rush is also entirely due to the targets imposed by EU. The excesses of the free market are bad but I’m not sure regulation is the answer. Good regulation is the answer but I see little evidence of that. As for the banks, there are credible analyses that put the blame on the crisis on Clinton’s decision to force banks to lend money to people who couldn’t afford repayments. The banks went to town with that, but again it’s at least arguable that it started with bad regulation.

    Other than that, you raise valid points and it’s clearly difficult to come to a solution that would pacify us all. I agree with you that turbines should be kept away from the mountains but the counter-argument is: that’s where the wind is. If you agree that wind is a good idea, then you must go along with the right kind of turbine (the taller the better) and of location (the higher the better).
    Grant the point that wind has a role to play and you’ve not a leg to stand on to block the building of wind farms on the mountains.
    The point is that wind is not the answer. It’s sheer tokenism. It’s the most expensive way of producing energy. It requires enormous amounts of backup (read the recent projections on the need to have at least the existing number of conventional power stations to provide back up for all the turbines that are going up). It causes fuel poverty. It’s a huge waste of resources that ought to be better channeled.
    I’m sure you’ll call this point of view ‘loony’, but I’d respectfully reciprocate the compliment.
    As for those who find turbines attractive, I’ve yet to find someone who thinks they’re inefficient and a waste of money but does find them attractive!
    Finally, the reason why they don’t put wind farms on the Pyrenees or the Alps is that it is too complicated technologically at so many levels. There are extensive wind farms on hills of comparable height as the Scottish hills.
    Sadly, wind farms are a nightmare that keeps on going…

    Take care,

  6. Capitalism has a contradiction which has always been there but has been laid embarrassingly bare in recent times: the free-marketeers would have us believe that the system thrives best under deregulated conditions, while their behaviour repeatedly demonstrates that they are the last people on earth to be trusted to operate without close scrutiny.

    For as long as the residual anger over the excesses of politicians and big business lasts, there may be some nervousness on the part of both when it comes to being the subject of sustained adverse publicity. It may not last long but it might be an exploitable advantage.

  7. Steady Eddie says:

    Agreed, a rant and a half.
    The democratically elected Scottish Parliament has set out a target for renewables production, probably the most demanding in the world, so what on earth (pun intended) is wrong with that?
    If you don’t like it, vote against it.
    If you didn’t vote, it’s your own bloody fault.
    If you can’t vote against it, butt out!
    The West Lothian Question is valid, the converse also holds true.
    I disagreed with Chris Townsend to a certain extent on his blog, because I would rather see future energy requirements coming increasingly (note the word) from them and for that objective, wind farms will play a role.
    I am no expert on energy production, but as I have said elsewhere, every debate I have listened to in search of enlightenment has left me with the quite clear impression that both sides say they are right and the other side is wrong.
    Give me choice between renewable production or a nuclear or coal fired option and that is easy.
    That is unless you work in a nuclear or coal fired facility, then it isn’t so easy.
    For the environmentalists, the best option would probably be to align production facilities more closely to where the demand is. Seems sensible.
    Think of the panic that would create for the densely populated areas! Serves them right.
    But don’t stop at power, throw water into the mix, or is that not fair.
    Nope, a bad wind farm on a Scottish/English/Welsh hillside is better than another Chernobyl. is that how you spell it?

  8. andy (not ye) says:

    Aha. I was wondering how long it would take for someone to mention that famous capitalist tragedy, Chernobyl. 50 deaths were directly attributable to that incident, according to Wikipedia.
    Compare that to Bhopal, a genuinely capitalist tragedy. It is likely, though not known for certain, that up to 15,000 people died as a direct consequence of that incident. In excess of half a million people were injured.
    Have we forsaken chemical plants because of that? It seems not. And it is indicative of the level of rational debate that defenders of wind farms always point out Chernobyl (a failure of implementation in a soon to collapse regime) while ignoring Bhopal. New generation nuclear plants are as safe as they can be and as the Guardian has pointed out recently the Chinese have cracked the problem of waste (the Finns did that too about five years ago).
    Anyway, to go back to Andy’s stimulating post, two more short points, if I may.
    –if we start talking about curbing growth, then we in the UL community should take a long and hard look at ourselves. The old working class lads that were taking to the hills with no kit at all, sleeping in bin liners and the lot, those were the real heros. We think nothing of spending 40 quid to get a Ti pot that is 40g lighter than a Blacks’ £9 one. And not content with that, when another one comes out that weighs another 2g less, we again part with our cash. How many stoves/bags/packs/jackets/pots does the average UL have? We are an absolute disgrace as far as wasteful growth goes, so I think, Andy, if you go that way you really are opening a huge can of (freeze-dried) worms…
    –as for arguing that wind farms are fine but not on the uplands. Well, the counter-argument will be: if you agree that wind farms are needed, then you must accept that we must build them where they can be at their most efficient. And that means uplands with near-constant supply of wind. If we were to build them near towns and the like, we’d need many more wind farms than we already need.

    I really don’t see what you can say to that.

    As for wind farms being attractive, take a look at this picture of the Braes of Doune windfarm:

    http://fatdogwalks.com/uamhbheag/um18.jpg

    If you find that this gives a sense of remoteness and grandeur (especially those nice dirt roads connecting the turbines that will be so easy to remove in 25 years’ time), then I’m not really sure why you take to the hills. You could just as well take a walk around Grangemouth.
    Final thing: now that we have had wind farms in operation in Scotland for quite a while, their lifespan is being thrown into doubt. Hardly any turbine will make it through their 25 years cycle without major replacement of parts. They’re even more expensive to run than previously thought…

    Yours loonily,
    A.

  9. I had dinner with Alex Salmond a number of years ago and he agreed with me that windfarms were a blight on Scotland’s landscape. He suggested that a future SNP government wouldn’t go down that route. Ho-hum. Not sure if I’d want to have dinner with him now, or Donald Trump for that matter…

  10. Interesting comment from Salmond there Cameron. And of course I’d rather have dinner with you :-)

    This does beg the question though of the balance between economic development and heritage and legacy.

    Perhaps, there is something to be written (sensitively) of Salmond’s apparent conversion to the dark side?

  11. I live in West Wales where we already have these turbines. I curse every time I see them and even louder when they are not turning! With all the electricity we use and with little hope of any of us making a substantial personal sacrifice in the use of power, I cannot see how wind turbines are the answer. Perhaps massive tax hikes may help – I am certainly more parsimonious with my heating system since oil has gone through the roof! (at least being outdoor people we have lots of fleece kit)

    There is a book by Dr John Ethrington an avid wind turbine critic which bears reading – Amazon have large junks which can be read. he has the following quote

    The following is taken from Dr John Ethringtons book “The Wind farm Scam”

    A quote from geologist malcolm Rider

    The Highlands are being humiliated by wind farm developers who insist they are saving the environment. They lie; they are here to make a profit. Wind farms produce very little and intermittent electricity. Most of the time they do not work. How can the blade of a bulldozer ripping up 6000 years of beautifully preserved archaeology be saving the environment? How can the turbine blades smashing a golden eagle to bits be saving the environment. How can the government of Scotland destroy such a prize. And use public money to do it.

  12. Interesting and thoughtful article…

    The problem that we are all now grappling with (or should be and at least you have Andy) is that country-wide, industrial scale electricity requires industrial scale generation irrespective of how you generate.

    Unfortunately alternative energy is not a very concentrated power source so you need a lot of distributed generating capacity. And in the case of wind the turbines require a lot of steel and concrete (for the base). For industrial scale, this is just not the small scale generation and (cute!) windmills which the green lobby might suggest.
    Fossil and nuclear generation at least has the advantage of generating huge amount of power from a limited number of concentrated plants.

    The point is that there is no ‘easy’ option here. Suggest you all read David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” (free PDF on web) which is by far and away the best piece of education on this subject.

    Don’t get me wrong; I do think we should have alternative energy but I think we need nuclear base load generation too.
    For instance, Cameron McNeish, who had commented above I see, frequently uses his articles to campaign against wind farms… (as is your right, and I have a degree of sympathy)
    ….but what is your alternative Cameron? Continued coal generation….?
    The resultant climate change isn’t going to help our beloved mountains much either….

  13. We should just grasp the nettle and be honest about it.

    The answer is Nuclear Power.

  14. Currently 20% of our electricity is produced by nuclear power stations (not a lot of people know that) with zero emissions. My local nuclear station (Sizewell) alone can provide 3% of the entire power needed for the whole UK. I think this might represent the real output of the entire wind industry – and from just one nuclear site. The problem is that owing to craven sucking up to the ‘green lobby’ the greater part of our nuclear capacity is due for closure, and even now there is no coherent plan for replacing the aged reactors – despite the fact that all the nuclear sites have adjacent land available for this very purpose with the infrastructure (pylons etc) for transmission right there on site. CO2 free. Close to the point of consumption (so without the 20% loss over miles of cable which happens with power from northern Scotland) but regrettably also without the RO certificates which make up the greater part of both onshore and off shore windfarms’ income*. Nor the added direct construction grant for offshore turbines. Quite how pouring millions of tons of concrete into the fragile (but conveniently unseen) marine environment is “green” escapes me competely.

    One argument against nuclear power is cost, and as a naked stand alone entity at present this may appear to be true. However, were it subsidised to the extent that wind is, the economics would look very different.

    And our upland countryside would look very different too.

    *they sell RO certificates to conventional suppliers at auction to help them meet their “renewable” obligations – this racket is worth more than the electricity generated, and amazingly is perfectly legal and encouraged by Ofgem. See the figures published by the Non-Fossil Purchasing Authority Ltd.

  15. There are some very interesting views and comments on this post. My take on this is following:
    1. I think it is completely unrealistic to curb consumption, it is never going to work and I could on for ages as to the reasons why, but it is not human nature to not want more and more.
    2. Sensible regulation is always important to try and curb the excesses of the market.
    3.I not convinced/not sure anyone can really know that climate change is taking place. I will reserve judgement on this.
    4.I am much more concerned on energy efficiency and energy security to avoid being held hostage to high prices and countries who could assert unreasonable positions on us regarding energy.
    5. I think will need a energy source mix to ensure an adequate supply , including wind and tidal power and nuclear.
    6.As regards wind farms – I am completely opposed to the siting of wind farms in landscape sensitive areas. I believe in offshore development and I am very keen on the plans to develop a £400 million industrial park on the south bank of the Humber to build off shore wind farms. I understand that this will create upwards of 27,000 jobs and create UK designed and built wind turbines.
    7. One of the most important aspects which I believe is missing in the national strategies is a national plan of insulation of UK homes, so that our energy consumption would be less, including statutory requirements for all new builds to have the facility for micro energy production.
    Mark

  16. Sack Salmond: Lord Elpus for “Emperor of Scotland”.
    :-)
    It’s time we stopped sodding about with wind turbines and put a proper green alternative in place. Nuclear.

    This may be “frightful” but it is the only realistic measure to produce reliable energy in the quantities required at a sensible cost without screwing up the wild land.

  17. The answer, my friend, is nuclear reactors using Thorium ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle ) . This has been known about for a long time, but Thorium reactors are rare as they do not contribute weapons grade fissile materials, hence there has been a bias towards uranium. Thorium is about four as abundant as uranium (I read somewhere) and the fuel cycle is not as toxic.

    You can’t blame capitalism for wind turbines as they are uneconomic on a stand alone basis and need subsidies to be economic.

  18. Thorium is about four times as abundant as uranium

  19. A lot of interesting points here. I wanted to say that the seabed is owned by the Crown and considerable monies have been raised in the 3 rounds of offshore wind announced so far but Andy (Not Ye) beat me to it!
    Whilst you’re correct in stating that the approach to cutting carbon is market based in a market led economy/society it has to be doesn’t it? If you look at environmental cost benefit analysis this is known as internalising externalities. You need to give cash value to something that has no cash value – like a landscape. Feed in is similar to the NFFO rounds which, whilst offering some support to renewables were really just a prop to mask the costs of nuclear generation and it’s subsequent privatisation. And whilst I agree with most of Andy (Not Ye)’s excellent points I disagree with his summation that it is tokenism.
    Chernobyl is a red herring and can hardly be desrcibed as a capitalist failiure when it was caused by fundamental design and operational errors in the RBMK reactor in a communist state!
    @ Bob Andrews, in what way can Malcolm Rider, a geologist be considered a subject matter expert other than to state over geological timescales the sea is going to go up, and down again, probably without us? And in any case, his assertion that they don’t work is patent nonsense.
    There is plenty of one sided literature for and against most of these issues it’s finding a balance that is the problem.

  20. Ultimately we need a fuel mix. The “dash to gas” to meet emission targets has led to very real security of supply and cost issues. It is also clear that nuclear will have to go ahead given our continual growing demand for electricity. But an acceptance of nuclear generation does not mean other renewables should be shelved. An article in the Guardian regurgitating Chinese state press releases showing increased fuel efficiency does not convince everyone that the very real issues of nuclear waste disposal have been solved. With regards to technology, why would the Chinese withhold magnets and sell nuclear reprocessing?

    Similarly, Robin, thorium might be an alternative but there will still be health issues and in any event it looks like most of the world will continue to use the large scale proven technologies of uranium as a fuel. Nuclear proliferation is hardly an issue there is enough of the stuff knocking around already anyway. If you want to be scared search soviet briefcase bombs, missing warheads and biological and chemical devices.

    longer term I think we should look at much more localised generation, the grid is hugely inefficient but that isn’t going to change either.

    As for the Monaliadth, as a supporter of wind generation in principle, I think on face value I grudgingly accept the proposal although I could possibly change my mind, i will admit to not be fully conversant with this proposal. If not on this site has anyone suggested an alternative one in Scotland for 130 turbines? looking at the JMT arguments I can see the bird issue but habitat loss? The highlands are blighted by alien forests of sitka and bulldozed scars across hill sides. But again, I am one of the people who do not really have a problem with visual intrusion issues with regards wind farms. Once built the immediate vicinity except the access road will return to unfrequented moor. Anyway, tin hat on.

  21. p.s. I have spent a day in the Monaliadth but by no means know the area well.

  22. Hi Andy. First of all well done on taking responsibility for the source of your electricity. I’ve done a similar thing.

    There have been quite a few extended discussions about windfarms on the TGO forum over the years. My view has been that what is needed is a zoned planning system for windfarms. The current planning system wasn’t really designed for such a large number of tall structures. At its simplest, and just to get the ball rolling (it didn’t roll anywhere!) I suggested drawing “buffer” zones around existing protected areas. I drew such a map (can’t find it now) with fixed distance buffer zones, but more effective buffer zones would be better (variable width depending on height of intervening hills and height of turbines). In any case, the windfarm free zones covered a surprisingly large area, and if I remember rightly, most of the area we as hillwalkers would most want to protect.

    If I remember rightly the objections raised by Chris and Cameron to this idea were that

    i)….somebody would have to designate the buffer zones, which admittedly is a difficult problem because:

    ii)…by defining where you couldn’t site windfarms you would also be defining where you could site windfarms, a sacrifice Chris and Cameron didn’t seem able to face. (Correct me if I’m wrong Chris or Cameron).

    I think the advantage of having a zoned planning system is best illustrated by the Clyde windfarm. When this was proposed Roger Smith wrote a piece condemning the windfarm, and on the face of it having such a large concentration doesn’t seem good. However look at the figures. The windfarm contains 152 turbines. The area of Scotland is 30414 sq miles. If the 152 turbines were spread evenly across Scotland they would each occupy a 200 sq mile area, or an area 14 miles by 14 miles. A turbine would be visible from most of Scotland.

    John

  23. andy (not ye) says:

    Wurz, I was being ironic with my comment re Chernobyl being a capitalistic tragedy. It was intended as a criticism of Steady Eddie’s point (and something that I thought was at the back of Andy Howell’s thinking on these matters).
    As for nuclear waste, the Finns have done well too in that respect and I for one welcome the fact that the Guardian is regurgitating press releases about nuclear power after having done nothing but regurgitating press releases about the wind industry!
    I’d love to believe that wind is the answer. The thing is that the figures I keep saying don’t seem to establish that.
    There’s also the vexed issue that if it is true that something like ‘climate disruption’ (the latest label we keep hearing about) is going on, then it seems to me that there’s a very good argument *against* wind there.
    For all we know, it’s part of that disruption that we might get *very* long spells of ‘weather block’ in which the wind is non-existent (even out at sea) while temperatures plummet.
    That is sort of recognised in the latest Westminster plans that, as far as I can tell, match any installed wind capacity with installed backup capacity.
    Bottom line is: the hills are paying a high price for what a way of generating energy that is just too damn unreliable. And wind is not free: maintenance and environmental costs are horrendous. Any time a blade or nacelle component needs replacing (and it happens far more often than anticipated), you need to lump a big crane up the hills from hundred of miles away. That can’t be good.
    Also, consider the job that the NTS have done on the old track up Beinn a’ Bhuiridh. It took them years to cover up the old scar. And it is still a long way from having recovered. And it is just a couple of miles long. Consider how many miles of new tracks are needed for each wind farm, in most cases on hills that had been left untouched.
    And still, for all this damage, we have not yet the equivalent of one, ONE, conventional power station in place in the UK.
    Oh, by the way, the usually very green Germans are building lots of new coal power stations right now. More efficient, cleaner, and running on stuff we’ve got plenty of reserve off.
    Seems to me that’s a better interim measure until the next magic way of generating energy than littering the hills with wind plants.
    And Wurz, sorry, but the fact that the Highlands are already scarred by sitka and tracks is not a good reason to pile up yet more rubbish on them. The estates are in fact using wind farms tracks as an excuse to dig out yet more tracks for their other purposes. After all, they say, why should you mind a few more tracks when you’re happy to endorse hundreds of miles of wind farm tracks?
    ’tis not an easy one, this energy business, is it.

  24. Wee Jimmie says:

    Right now, the average income globally is about 5000 pounds a year. Unless you’re willing to live on considerably less than that, or to tell the world’s poor that they have to live in abject poverty so that you can have your life of relative luxury, reducing consumption isn’t a practical long-term way to reduce our environmental impact.

    I second the suggestion above to read ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’.

  25. “Oh, by the way, the usually very green Germans are building lots of new coal power stations right now. More efficient, cleaner, and running on stuff we’ve got plenty of reserve off.” …… Andy (not ye)

    To be fair, Germany’s wind resource isn’t as good as Scotland’s. If you have a look the map half way down this page you can see Germany’s ave wind speed on hills is (say) 9m/s whereas Scotland’s is say 12m/s:

    http://www.propertyinvesting.net/cgi-script/csNews/csNews.cgi?database=specialreports.db259&command=viewonex

    That equates to about 2.4 times as much power for a given size turbine. Also Germany has a vast number of windfarms aleady so all the best sites are used up.

    This link shows Germany’s existing wind capacity factor as 17%.
    http://lightbucket.wordpress.com/2008/03/13/the-capacity-factor-of-wind-power/
    Any additional installations would likely have lower capacity factors.

    This link suggests a CF of 40% on the west and north coasts of Scotland.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Scotland#Wind_variability
    Even if that figure is a bit ambitious it’s no wonder there’s a sort of gold rush going on.

    As I said to Cameron on the TGO forum years ago, it’s no good trying to fight this battle on technical grounds – you’ll lose.

    John

  26. andy (not ye) says:

    John, the gold rush is there because of the subsidies and ROC scam. No other reason.

    We can start a war of links if you wish, but if you call your links ‘technical grounds’, then I’m not playing that game.

    Take a look at how much electricity the wind farms actually produce especially when we most need it and then come back to us, will ya.

    Anyway, given the huge sums of money involved in the subsidies scam, we don’t stand a chance.

    But we must fight nonetheless.

    30 years down the line they’ll be wondering why no one stood up for the hills. It’ll be nice to be able to say we tried (those of us who’ll still be around, just, in my case…!)

  27. Andy (not ye), I don’t want to take sides, I’m just interested in the best outcome. The only way I know how to get anywhere near the truth is to try and find info which I hope is impartial. I think it’s a shame that you’re not interested in following my links and looking at the evidence. I’ll happily read info for or against unless it’s blatantly biased.

    The phrases “the gold rush is there because of the subsidies and ROC scam” and “Take a look at how much electricity the wind farms actually produce” don’t add up because the ROCs are given per MWh of electricity generated. No production, no sale of electricity and no ROCs. Bankrupt.

    Talking of subsidies, I see the International Energy Agency has said that fossil fuel subsidies worldwide were $312 billion dollars last year and set to rise to $600 billion by 2015. I guess that means direct subsidies, not things like military force required to procure fossil fuels in unfriendly states. The energy market is subsidised.

    I think we certainly need a diverse generating capability. Just look at the damage suffered by the UK by having an economy over-dependent on the financial sector. To be over-dependent on coal or nuclear could be disastrous.

    “30 years down the line they’ll be wondering why no one stood up for the hills.”

    All I’ve been saying for the last four years or so is don’t fight his war in a piecemeal fashion as soon as something you don’t like crops up, have a strategy, understand the arguments of both sides, identify where there’s common ground and where there’s conflict. The outcome will be a compromise (it already is), and I think it’s better to have a compromise that suits us rather than a random compromise.

    “It’ll be nice to be able to say we tried (those of us who’ll still be around, just, in my case…!)”

    Me too. I live in hope!

    John

  28. andy (not ye) says:

    John, as I understand the latest arrangements, if you’ve a turbine, you get paid no matter what that turbine produces. In some cases, you get paid not to produce electricity if there’s too much stuff getting into the grid. I did follow your links and I disagree about their factual status. As for ROC, the scam I was referring to is the one in trading them, rather than using them, sorry if that was unclear. So there’s no connection at all with the wind rush. There are other subsidies in place and you get a fixed amount for every turbine you’ve got on your land regardless of amount produced (It used to be 25k a year I think, not sure what’s it like now).

    Let me put it this way: the day the big guys in Holyrood agree that their homes and the parliament will be entirely dependent on the electricity actually produced by wind plants, then I’ll respect them.

    As for your other points, the sad reality, as witnessed by Chris Townsend in a report on his blog back in December, I think, is that the position of the government is that we (hillwakers and the like) will get use to the turbines and stop moaning about it.

    They’ve intentionally adopted a piecemeal strategy so that we’d ‘get used’ to having turbines more or less everywhere, with little enclaves here and there.

    It’s a bit like that bloke, Mithridates, who allegedly got used to poison by adding a bit to his food every day. They add plants around the edges of the best mountains in the world with the thought we won’t notice them any more after a few years.

    Quite frankly, our opinion counts for nothing, especially because we’re divided. There are those who think it’s all a scam, those who say they’re in favour of renewables but not on the hills, those who say they’d rather have turbines that nuclear and those who say they love them no matter where they’re put up.

    On the other side of the fence, there’s no such division of opinion. They just go ahead and steam roll plant after plant over our heads.

    Cut the pie any way you want, the face of Scotland has already been changed beyond recognition and it’ll only get worse.

    Sadly, there’s no best outcome for the hills in all of this. Sacrificial lamb and all that.

    As for your previous point about Germany: I’m not sure it is true that they’ve building coal power stations because they’ve run out of sites for wind power. I’m sure there are still lots of hills that they could use near the Bavarian Alps for instance. Public opinion however is not so keen on that sort of thing there, unlike here…

    But I tell you what: if you think about the history of the Highlands, the sad thing is that they’ve always been treated like a commodity by lairds and the government. First they decided they needed the trees to build men-of-war. Then they decided sheep and deer were a good idea and they kicked folks out of them. Then it was carpet forestation. And now turbines.

    It is this that sticks in my gullet more than anything else. The complete lack of respect for the sacredness of the skyline. I’m not religious but experiencing the hills is what gives a sense of perspective to my life. And now every time I go hill walking I get angry at the stupidity of those who put the turbines there and those, forgive me John, who say it’s a good idea.

  29. Andy (not ye) I hope Andy Howell doesn’t mind us hi-jacking his blog!!

    I think on aesthetic grounds you have a perfectly valid opinion. I agree with you here – I think that a country that sells the family silver is either in very big trouble or very stupid. But unless you can back up some of your other comments with evidence they’re not worth much and I think undermine your objection on aesthetic grounds.

    And this scales up to how groups of people object. They object on the grounds that windfarms don’t work (when their real objection is aesthetics); the government has already made it’s mind up that windfarms do work and the objection is dismissed.

    I can’t find any reference to a fixed subsidy per year.

    “But I tell you what: if you think about the history of the Highlands, the sad thing is that they’ve always been treated like a commodity by lairds and the government”

    I agree with you. Planning permission is a very modern idea. I think it takes a long time to shake off centuries of culture, and many of those who have shaken of the feudal system also worship the cult of property – why bother going to the enormous expense of owning property (whether it’s a terraced house or 100,000 acres) if you can’t do more or less what you like with it?

    “…I get angry at the stupidity of those who put the turbines there and those, forgive me John, who say it’s a good idea.”

    Whilst I will admit that I’m stupid :-) it’s only fair to point out that I said it’d be a good idea to do it properly instead of randomly. I’d rather they didn’t do it at all, just as I’d rather not go to the dentist, but needs must……

  30. Of course I don’t mind the debate …

    … Carry on!

    Am contemplating replies!

  31. With regards Germany and coal generation the German coal industry has been receiving state aid since the 80’s with annual figures between 2.5 to over 7 billion euros a year. Only in December a German led group which included Spain managed to block an EU plan to stop coal subsidies completely by 2014.

    Lairds using windfarms as an excuse to building other tracks should not be an issue of the windfarm although i can see why it adds to greivances. This is surely weak local government?

    With regards planning I understand the Scottish Gov’s position but what is the local authorities, did they say no and it get over-ruled by Gov or did they accept the proposals anyway?

  32. andy (not ye) says:

    Even the wind-friendly BBC does a reality check from time to time:
    reality check (BBC link)

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