Sunday, 11 September 2011

When does 2 kilometres = 650 metres?

How about setting a legally enforceable minimum separation distance between wind turbines and residential properties - you know, something that is enforceable by law and not through some fluffly planning regulations or guidance? Would be nice ehh? Well, our colleagues South of the border are trying to do such a thing. The Wind Turbines (Minimum Distances from Residential Premises) bill is currently in the House of Lords at Westminster and has reached the committee stage. It is a House of Lords private members bill, so it works its' way backwards from the Lords to the Commons. This one will be interesting to watch and I will endeavour to keep you updated.

Here is a question aimed fairly and squarely at our Scottish Government in Edinburgh (and I know a few of you do stop by here from time to time): Are there any plans to implement a similarly useful bill such as this here in Scotland? And if not, why not? Our population in Scotland is one tenth that of England, but we have 60% of the land area of England. Do you not feel that our rural communities are in need of reasonable protection, or are you happy that wind turbines are, or will be sighted within 650 metres of rural properties? Surely, with such a land mass to population ratio we can find areas to use for wind farms that are not so close to rural communities and properties? Perhaps you feel that Scottish planning legislation already provides the necessary protection? If that is the case, why isn't Scottish Planning Policy 6 (SPP6) applicable to isolated properties and small communities? Why are such locations not afforded the same 2km setback distance as cities, towns and villages?

And to put the problem into some real perspective, what happens when there is a catastrophic failure? In February 2008, a 10-year-old Vestas turbine with blade tip height of less than 200 feet catastrophically failed in bad weather. Large pieces of the blades were discarded over 8 times the turbine's height (1,640 feet). Please watch the videos in the link, and then perhaps you will start to understand the magnitude of the risk currently being taken. I know turbine blades are now made of stronger materials than they used to be but they are still susceptible to catastrophic failure, and still carry a similar amount of kinetic energy when rotating - which is sufficient to carry the blade of a turbine a massive distance if it becomes separated. It is you, the legislators who we look to, to provide the necessary protection mechanisms - please stop putting the population of rural communities and properties at risk in the blind pursuit of government policy implementation.

Despite what the manufacturers say, you cannot design a completely fail-safe system; cascade failures do happen (recent events in Japan have shown the need to consider the 'unthinkable'). I accept you can mitigate risk - but you cannot eliminate it. However, in this case, risk mitigation can be effectively implemented by ensuring that turbines are located a good margin beyond where a blade could end up having become separated in a strong wind - which is precisely the protection SPP6 would afford isolated rural properties and communities if it was fully applicable to them.