To accompany Energy Minister Fergus Ewing’s delivery of the keynote speech at the opening day of the European Wind Energy Association offshore wind conference in Amsterdam, Marine Energy Science launched its new research report for Offshore Wind Energy in Scottish waters. This is the first stage in the process to identify potential new areas for offshore wind energy.
The conference attracts more than 7,500 participants and over 480 exhibitors. The areas identified and the new research announced to develop offshore wind are designed to be attractive to inward investment.
However, the announcement at an extraterritorial conference of 15 new areas identified in Scottish waters for offshore windfarms – albeit aka research – is likely to cause alarm at home, faced with this information in what can only feel like a fait accompli.
The new areas could support a further 10 Gigawatts of development and are additional to the plans already in place for 10 Gigawatts of offshore wind around Scotland.
The report will now be followed by more detailed Regional Locational Guidance to provide industry, including those in the supply chain, with the best knowledge to locate their activities in Scotland.
Mr Ewing also announced a new £5 million offshore renewables R & D programme, using European Regional Development Funds, to be taken forward by Scottish Enterprise.
The programme will help minimise costs and risks in the offshore environment by supporting research and development, prototype development, innovation and commercialisation activities involving small and medium sized enterprises.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: ‘The Scottish Government is working with public and private sector partners to support green energy developments and the reindustrialisation of Scotland’s communities.’
The trouble with this sort of statement is that two forms of development mentioned above are not necessarily consequentially related. In many cases the only ‘reindustrialisation of Scotland’s communities’ from offshore wind farms may be that they will be living in a more visibly industrial physical context.
The areas identified by Marine Scotland are mostly the shallow waters close inshore, which are suitable for existing technologies, meaning cheaper to install. While there is nothing wrong with ‘cheaper’ per se, the environmental cost of littering the coastline with inshore wind farms in technologies which will soon be obsolescent would seem to be at a discount.
The government’s press release says that: ‘… there are (also) deepwater areas which could used for emerging offshore technologies such as floating technology; and that: ‘We will now produce a revised plan in 2013 to better understand the waters around Scotland and provide developers with the confidence to move to the next stage of project development in Scottish waters.’
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing told the conference – in a script so familiar it is now beyond cliche and with some of it clearly over-inflated: ‘With an estimated 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind resource, Scotland is the place to come and do business and reap the massive benefits of new offshore wind development and deployment.
‘We have demonstrated our commitment with an ambitious but achievable target of the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs coming from renewables by 2020. By positioning Scotland as a world leader in low carbon activities, we are witnessing new investment and new jobs. Offshore wind could support almost 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in Scotland by 2020, generating over seven billion pounds for our economy, while there is already 300 million pounds being invested in Scotland to develop the next generation offshore wind turbines. But we want to go further and secure more – much more – international investment on Scotland’s shores and I look forward to working with you all right across Europe.’
We understand from the well informed Kintyre Offshore Wind Action Group (KOWAG) that: ‘…this scoping report is the outcome of a spatial analysis tool which modelled “constraints”. The impact on people was ironically not one of the constraints considered… unless they are dead and buried in shipwrecks at sea, in which case they become an archaeological constraint. Presumably the people-factor comes in when they do the regional locational guidance’. This will be the deskbound equivalent of ‘ light blue touch paper and retire.
When you look at the Marine Scotland research report: Offshore Wind Energy in Scottish Waters the picture is close to unhinged. (The map above is on Page 2 of the Executive Summary.)
The entrance to the outer Firth of Clyde would be almost closed off by wind farms, both right inshore in Ayrshire and south Kintyre – and entrance to Campbeltown Loch would be what? A slalom?
Then there is an entire continuous swathe stretching from the north of Islay away to the northwest, blanketing Tiree and Barra. As the Trekkies sing: ‘It’s life Jim, but not as we know it’.
The entire west coast of Scotland, one of the world’s renowned sailing grounds – would be unrecognisable and, for sail, effectively unnavigable. Has anyone calibrated the impact of wind turbines on passing sail boats?
The country is almost completely ringed with areas for inshore and offshore wind farms – to the point where what is happening is painfully clear.
These plans are being created by city-based bureaucrats who have lost sight of the fact that what they are looking at is more than a set of potential resources. It is a country and a country with a very specific identity upon which unique lifestyles, cultures and the major industry of tourism depend.
A plan as brutalist as this, even for ‘research’ purposes, has forgotten the larger realities altogether. This is no more than a computer game, or a version of ‘Risk’, which used to be Bill Gates’ favourite – but we are not talking about a game – or are we? – but a country.
The west coast – a major feature and a unique selling point for Scotland – and every aspect of life on and experience of the west coast and its islands, will be irrevocably changed by this Frankenstein deskbound madness.
It’s impact is profoundly dangerous because it immediately drives on to consider the neat footprint and the energy grunt of nuclear power.
As rational environmentalists – we are instinctively, viscerally and knowingly opposed to nuclear generation, because of its ultimate uncontrollability and the toxic legacy it leaves for an unknown sequence of generations to come.
But in the end, faced with so destructive an alternative, reason is not reason if it is not prepared to reconsider options in changed circumstances.
We had been driven in this direction before – by the out of scale plan for the Argyll Array windfarm off – and virtually on – Tiree, which is five times the size of the entire island.
Fukushima and what was virtually its reactor farm sent us careering back to wondering how much of a presence of offshore wind – which is inefficient and will be an obsolete technology in the mid term – might be acceptable.
This map of areas for ‘research’ into offshore wind generation produces the recoil of a rape.
And, conflicted on the relative cost of wind power as a knowledgeable reader accused us of being- and which we admit – we are again open to the possibility of nuclear power.
If the Westminster government offered to power the UK from a reactor farm in, say, Suffolk, how many Scots might find the union ‘worth a mass’?