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Wind Up, Wind Down

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Wind turbines

It’s been a mixed week or so for the wind power industry. On April 22nd, the Scottish government rejected plans to build one of Europe’s biggest onshore wind farms owing to “significant adverse impacts” on the local environment. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, billionaire Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens has launched a plan to spend $10 billion on building the world’s biggest wind farm.

Lewis Wind Power, a consortium of AMEC and British Energy, wanted to build 181 turbines on the Isle of Lewis, with a capacity of 651.6 megawatts — enough to meet 20% of Scotland’s average domestic electricity consumption. The £500 million project was turned down on the grounds that it did not comply with European Union law protecting sensitive environments, and would damage peatland and threaten rare and endangered bird populations.

Lewis Wind Power are understandably rather pissed that things have turned out this way for the 6 year project, which had already been scaled down from the original planning application, lodged in 2004, for a 234-turbine wind farm, at that time the biggest on-shore proposal in the world. Read their press release here, and the Scottish Government’s decision here. The bottom line is that Lewis Wind and their consultants invested an enormous amount of time and money in evaluating the environmental impacts of the project, and concluded there weren’t any, or at least none that weren’t outweighed by the economic benefits. Unfortunately, the government completely disagreed:

“The Lewis Wind Farm would have significant adverse impacts on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area, which is designated due to its high value for rare and endangered birds.

However, you will be pleased to hear that:

“This decision does not mean that there cannot be onshore wind farms in the Western Isles. I strongly believe the vast renewables potential needs to be exploited to ensure that the opportunities and benefits of new development can be shared across the country in an equitable fashion.

“That’s why we will urgently carry out work on how to develop renewable energy in the Western Isles, in harmony with its outstanding natural heritage. This work will result in an action plan for sustainable development on the islands and will be ready in the autumn”

Perhaps it’s finally dawned on someone in the corridors of power that the planning process for these large projects has to be ripped up and rewritten. Spend six years covering every angle and issue at great expense, only to have it knocked back by the planners? It amazes me that companies still step forward to play these games. What ought to happen, which is hinted at in the government statement, is that the parameters for the various impacts are defined at the outset: “This is what you can do, this is what you can’t do, if you think you can follow the rules and still make money, give it your best shot, with heavy penalties if you screw up”.

I wonder how much thought is being given to environmental issues by T. Boone Pickens’ company Mesa Power, which next month will start acquiring land and ordering the 2,700 wind turbines that will eventually generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity – the equivalent of two commercial scale nuclear power plants – enough power for about 1 million homes. The scale of this project is absolutely enormous. Running north-south from Saskatchewan to Texas would be thousands of wind turbines, exploiting some of the best wind production conditions in the U.S. Running east-west from Texas to California would be large solar arrays, generating electricity for growing Southern California cities like Los Angeles. Such a huge project, requiring so much land, must surely run into opposition somewhere.

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Written by Pete Smith

April 26, 2008 at 12:02 am

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