Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Risky round up...

Somehow, I didn't think my post dated Tuesday December 13th would be the last word on safety!

First, it appears I need to correct a couple of 'factual inaccuracies'. On Thursday, 8th December 2011, I posted a piece entitled "Going over Like Dominioes'. In that post I reported that the turbine that came down in Coldingham was as a result of a catastrophic failure. This was how the accident had been widely reported and there was therefore no obvious need to doubt the reporting. It now appears that in actual fact, this turbine was deliberately bought down as a direct result of the turbine's brakes having failed - it was deemed the safest thing to do.

Next, In the same post I reported that the Coldingham turbine was the first catastrophic structural failure to occur in Scotland - well, it wasn't. In 2008, a Vestas turbine on Kintyre collapsed. It is entirely possible there have been more catastrophic failures - reports are sometimes difficult to find - and you tend to miss them if you blink.

On to risk assessments. On Tuesday Decemeber 13th, I made mention of a risk assessment that was carried out in support of a wind turbine application in Northamptonshire. I was particularly interested in this as I wanted to understand the rigour of the approach taken since Environmental Statements for other applications make reference to this report. Well, after some particularly obtuse Googling, I found the assesment, in two halves. I have therefore stitched the two halves together and made the risk assessment available here and in the sidebar of the blog under Reference Documents.

After a cursory read of this document, there appear to be a number of serious flaws with it. First of all, in attempting to quantify the probability of various types of accidents, reference has been made to the statistics made available by the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (page 23 and page 32 refer). Now, I have the upmost respect for the work of this group, but why weren't comprehensive industry data used as the basis for the probabilities? Accident data is compiled by Renewables UK - it's just not made public. The effect of using the Caithness group's data? Well, assuming the data the Caithness group publish is incomplete (and that is highly likely since they rely largely upon press reports to compile their tables), the probabilities are so badly skewed that they cannot in any way be relied upon. Essentially then, there is every possibility that the probabilities demonstrated in this document completely under-estimate the real-life risk.

Next, I had a quick look at the calculation used to predict the arc of possible ice throw (starting on page 17, and including Appendix 1). Initially, this looked quite promising. I have no issue with the general equation used to calculate the arc of probable ice throw (Appendix 1). Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends, since no account has been taken of the 'lift or lob' effects of the wind on a piece of dislodged ice. Such effects are acknowledged in a footnote at the bottom of page 17 - but then promptly brushed aside.

These two issues in themselves are I believe, sufficient to ensure that this document has no place in any reasonable Environmental Statement. Using out of date, incomplete statistics and over-simplified physics to demonstrate the apparent safety of wind turbines is not in my opinion a valid approach to performing a useful risk assessment. As such, any Environmental Statement that relies upon this document as supporting evidence has to be seriously open to question.

Should you come across references to this report in an Environmental Statement you really should question both the accuracy of the data, the validity of the conclusions and the apparent science used to reach them; this document has to rank alongside ETSU-R-97 as one of the most flawed pieces of writing you are ever likely to come across with regard to wind farms.

Straid wind farm # 12

Once again, we see ecotricity desperately trying to put a positive spin on their proposed development at Straid Farm. In a letter published in last week's Carrick Gazette, Mike Cheshire appears somewhat confused and ill-informed and seems intent on telling people what they have probably already figured out for themselves: if you look out to sea, you will not see the wind turbines. Well, that's a bit like saying you won't be able to hear the turbines in Colmonell or Girvan.

Mr Cheshire opens his letter by asserting that 'The spectacular views, I'm sure everyone will agree, are out to sea over Carlton Bay and across to Ailsa Craig'. For some people, this may be the case. However for others, the view looking towards Pinbain Hill is equally pleasant. Indeed, protecting this view was the reasoning behind removing two of the turbines from the original proposed layout - or so ecotricity said at the time at any rate. Presumably, this view is no longer important then?

The letter also talks about how the houses in Carlton Bay face the sea so that they have a sea view. And yes, I accept this is to give them a sea view. However, this does not mean that what is to the left or right of them is irrelevant. Perhaps Mr Cheshire is unaware that as human beings, we have an almost 180° field of view. When we look at something, our attention may be focussed on the particular item or object that holds our interest, but we see far more than the tiny area in front of us. We are equipped with what is effectively, almost panoramic vision, and we cannot just blot bits out of our view because they are inconvenient. Therefore, what is on the periphery of our vision is important - we don't have tunnel vision (well, most of us don't).

To me the most spectacular view of this part of South Ayrshire is from the south, descending Bennane Hill and coming through Lendalfoot. It takes in the bay (straight ahead), Aisla Craig (on the left) and the hills (on the right) - and this view will be totally wrecked by the proposed development. There is also a gross inaccuracy in Mr Cheshire's letter: 'Views across the bay from picnic areas and other parking bays along the short stretch of coastal road where the turbines may be visible would also remain unaffected'. So, today I went down to the Varyag memorial and took the following picture:

This view is looking towards Straid. Now, imagine the Straid turbines have been built. The red line is at the existing met' mast height and therefore shows the approximate hub height - we have to add on a blade length to this level to get the true blade tip elevation - how on Earth can it be claimed that this view would remain unaffected by the placement of 14 turbines of around 300 feet blade tip elevation?

There is a general thrust in the letter that seems to indicate that the picnic areas are what matters here and that the resident's amenity is largely irrelevant. Whilst both are important, I think it is fair to say that people using picnic areas can choose where to eat, and to a certain degree what they look at whilst they eat - the residents of Lendalfoot don't have quite the same degree of flexibility; for the most part they chose to live in Lendalfoot long before this proposal was ever dreamt up and doubtless for very specific, personal reasons.

What astounds me about this letter though, is the attitude of the author and the ridiculous attempts to tell the residents of Lendalfoot what is important to them (along with irrelevancies and inaccuracies). It really does demonstrate the enormous gulf between wind farm developers (as an industry), and those that have the burdens of such developments rammed down their throats - perhaps for the rest of their lives. If the purpose of this letter was to assuage the feelings and thoughts of the residents of Lendalfoot, I think it will have completely the opposite effect.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Wind Turbines (Minimum Distances from Residential Premises)

Back in September 2011, I made reference to this House of Lords Private Members bill. Well, the bill has now been scheduled to commence line by line examination at the Committee stage on January 27, 2012. Still a long way to go - and many hurdles to overcome on this one, but at least a date for its further progress has been scheduled. Whether the bill would have the force of law in Scotland if it gained Royal Ascent remains to be seen! I will post back on the progress of the bill at the end of January 2012.

Breaker Hill wind farm # 10

The closing date for comments of the newly submitted, additional documents for the proposed Breaker Hill wind farm has been extended to 14 January, 2012.

Do remember that any comments must relate only to the new material - so choose your words with care if you do submit a comment on this new material!

Tralorg Hill wind farm # 3

PNE Wind Ltd claim to have submitted their planning application for the proposed Tralorg Hill wind farm. At the time of posting, I have been unable to find a reference to it in the South Ayrshire planning system. I will of course make an appropriate post as soon as I can find a planning reference, and carry out all the necessary updates to this blog in terms of providing appropriate links. I will also publish links to the Environmental Statement as soon as I can get my sticky hands on a copy. In the meantime, if you can't remember where this 8 turbine proposal sits in our landscape, consult the map below:

View South Carrick Wind Farms in a larger map

Its the blue area in the centre of the map - zooming out one level will help you get orientated.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Dersalloch wind farm # 1

Below are the links to the Environmental Statement for the Proposed Dersalloch wind farm. This wind farm is located in the Dalmellington area of South Ayrshire. This planning application has been with Central Consents since 2005. I have also included links to the addendum which was submitted towards the end of 2006.

As in previous similar posts, the coffee table summary is the Non Technical Summary and the real detail is contained in the remaining files. The individual chapters and appendices are quite small, so I suggest you download those that are appropriate to your interests and then reference the relevant figures from the drop down selector boxes as required.

Non Technical Summary
2Environmental Impact Assessment
3Site Selection
4Project Description
5Planning Policy
6Landscape and Visual Assessment
7Ecological Assessment
8Ornithological Assessment
9Hydrogeology and Hydrology
10Cultural Heritage Assessment
11Noise Assessment
12Traffic Assessment
13Tourism, Socio-Economic, Recreation and Land Use Assessment
14Other Issues
BBirds Technical Report
COperational Noise Impact Assessment
DPeat Stability Report
Appendix A of Appendix D
Executive Summary
Ornithology Technical Report

Finally, if you are receiving this post via email you'll probably find the drop down lists don't work for you. This is as a result of the code used to 'power' them. If you wish to access the documents listed in the drop down lists and are having trouble with them from within your email client, please visit the blog where you shouldn't encounter any such problems. If anyone encounters ANY OTHER problems with the download links, please let me know via the 'Get in Touch' link at the top of the blog.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The last word on safety

...well, for a little while - maybe!

The recent incineration of a turbine at Ardrossan has caused some odd pieces of information to be released - from a couple of sources. We'll start with total accidents over the past 5 years. According to the Daily Telegraph who quote Renewables UK, there have been 1,500 accidents or incidents over the last 3 years - that's approaching 1 a day. Now, a number of these will be related to construction, and quite possibly a large number - but since the 1,500 number isn't broken down to any useful degree, we don't known the distribution of operational and construction incidents. Curiously, the same article clearly identifies the reason why accidents involving wind turbines are not identifiable: its because a wind turbine is classed as a machine - not a structure and therefore there is no requirement to report mechanical failures. Renewables UK seem to have a handle on the problem (through its Lessons Learned Database), its just a pity they don't seem to want to place that information in the public domain. Instead, Renewables UK hide behind a probability that 'the risk to the public is 1 in 100,000,000'. Now, where did that number come from? What is the basis for it?

The really nasty bit about the Renewables UK quotations in the Daily Telegraph article I have referenced above concerns setback distances. Renewables UK state that planning and safety rules meant turbines were always at a certain minimum distance from roads and homes, reducing further the risk to the public. Sorry, did I miss something? What is this minimum distance? Is this distance legally enforceable, or just a recommendation or an industry rule of thumb? The only restrictions on placing wind turbines close to residential properties that I am aware of are based upon predicted noise output - which is where we end up with the ridiculous situation where these massive structures (sorry machines) end up being placed as close as 650 metres to isolated residential properties. And with quieter turbines being developed all the time, I imagine that minimum distance will reduce further. I'll return to risk assessments in a minute.

The last piece of odd information comes from Infinis, the owners of the Ardrossan facility. According to this article, staff at Ardrossan abandon the wind farm when wind speeds exceed 55mph. Ask yourself why? 55 mph isn't all that windy after all - what are they concerned about?

Now returning to risk assessments, and in an effort to try and find out whether the wind farm developers take the possibility of blade throw, ice throw and or catastrophic tower collapse seriously, I reviewed the Health and Safety section for a number of the Environmental Statements for wind farms that I have linked to. Only the proposed Hill of Ochiltree document makes significant note of such a possibility, and here is what they have to say on the matter (para 13.4.6, chapter 13 refers) :

A recent risk assessment1 for a wind turbine application in West Northampton considered the risks to public health of an operational turbine. Structural failure and ice throw were considered in detail in the report. Following clarification from the relevant planning department it was confirmed that the 1 in 10,000 probability of component failure equated to a 1 in 1,000,000 probability of turbine collapse. An annual limit of risk to public health of 1 in 100,000 is proposed based on recommendations in Health and Safety Executive published guidance2 and British Standard3. The turbine applied for in West Northampton is similar to those proposed at hill of Ochiltree i.e. modern 2+MW 3 bladed turbines. Therefore the conclusions in the risk assessment can reasonably be applied at Hill of Ochiltree. While turbine failure is a potential risk factor, the actual public health risk is extremely low.

Perhaps we have found the source of that risk statistic quoted by Renewables UK - which appears to have been rather mis-quoted. Now, I'll leave those risk numbers alone - there is something far more interesting if we dig a little deeper. I tried to find the risk assessment carried out that this paragraph refers to. I couldn't find it, since the link provided as a reference is for an old planning application. However, I believe it refers to a planning application for a 125 metre turbine at an Asda store submitted to West Northamptonshire District Council in 2007/8 (planning reference 07/0356/FULWNN). I would really like to see that report - so if you have a copy, please get in touch. Whilst the report itself could not be found, I did come across the report to the Northampton Area Planning Committee that made reference to a risk assessment carried out on a 125 metre wind turbine planning application. The really relevant part of that planning report is quoted below:

The Risk Assessment carried out for the proposed 125m turbine at the ASDA Brackmills Depot (WNDC Planning Application: 07/0356/FULWNN) showed that ice could be thrown up to 680m from the turbine – substantially greater than the separation between the turbines and the A14 and also further than the nearest residential dwellings. We are not aware of any proposal to address ice-throw as suggested by the Highways Agency. We also bring to your attention that vibration monitoring technology does not detect even ice build up and so can not be relied upon to prevent ice throw. We strongly recommend that the turbines should not be allowed to operate during any period when icing could occur and that they should remain disabled until such a time as any ice on the blades has thawed.

Hmm. So, somebody has sat down and calculated that ice could be thrown 680 metres from a 125 metre turbine. Presumably then, shattered blade parts could also be thrown this sort of distance. And how close are similar (or larger) sized turbines being placed to residential properties here in Scotland? Closer than 680 metres. If you are interested in the 'mechanics' behind ice throw, take a trip to this page.

Next, I went on the hunt for information regarding blade throw. The only place I could find significant reference to this was in an environmental statement for an American wind farm called Desert Claim, in Washington State USA. Page 3-162 (actual document page number 6) makes a weak attempt at tabulating maximum blade throw distances. Now, it has been quite a while since I studied graduate level physics, but the approach taken by these developers is a gross over-simplification; no account is taken of a rotor over-speed condition (the calculations are based upon the maximum normal operating rotational velocity of the rotor) and no account has apparently been taken of the wind and how it could effect the trajectory of a detached blade (or part of). How would an 80 mile an hour wind effect these estimates? This in actual fact is not a complex situation to model. It involves lots of variation in key variables, but it would be relatively straight forward to build a software tool that modelled the relationship between wind direction, blade mass and rotational velocity and provided detailed information on the sort of distance a detached blade could travel in extreme weather. This to my mind should be provided by the turbine manufacturers.

The point of all this? Well, clearly some work has been done on the risk of ice throw - but it is not widely quoted or referenced. I could find no reference to any serious attempts to model the risk zone of blade throw. Both of these potential hazards are brushed off as insignificant by many developers. And catastrophic failures? Developers and industry bodies seem quite happy to hide behind (mis-quoted) probabilities on the basis that apparently demonstrates how safe their equipment is. The reality is, the probability becomes more significant as the number of installed turbines increases. I for one will not voluntarily go within a country mile of one of these things - and this is why:

What I find odd is that our society is becoming more and more risk averse - when it is convenient. The video above shows what can happen - after all it did happen, and in all probability, it will happen again - only next time, perhaps somebody will get hurt - or worse. What happens then I wonder? Wouldn't it be better to make EVERY REASONABLE effort to mitigate the potential impacts of such occurrences through the use of sensible setback distances rather than dubious probabilities?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Fiery stuff

An unamed renewables energy expert has classed the fire that destroyed a turbine at Adrossan yesterday as a freak occurrence. Should you not have seen the video, here it is (a still from the video was emblazoned across the front of many newspapers this morning):

It seems rather odd to me that this has been so quickly classified as a freak occurrence. The investigators must have worked very quickly indeed to establish the cause of the fire - assuming there were any (investigators that is). Unfortunately, there seem to be quite a few 'freak occurrences' of turbine fires. The following YouTube playlist shows eight fires and two turbine tower collapses:

It is worth remembering that these are only the accidents that have been caught 'on film' and reported on YouTube - generally because somebody happened to have a camera or 'phone handy. I am willing to admit that accidents are not run of the mill, but to suggest fires and failures are freak occurences really is insulting people's intelligence. Astute observers will note that the fires in the video sequence occur in a variety of weather conditions - just in case somebody tries to classify turbine fires as things that can only happen during 10-year storm occurrences. And no, the strong winds yesterday did not cause the Ardrossan turbine fire despite what the BBC article headlines, it was caused by a mechanical or electrical defect in the turbine concerned. If this wasn't the case and the fire was caused by the wind, why didn't all of the turbines at Ardrossan burst into flames? Good grief, the BBC really does need to review its editorial control.

The renewables industry doesn't like to talk about things that go wrong. Instead of openness and honesty, a cloak of secrecy generally surrounds such incidents - although its pretty difficult to hide a bonfire 330 feet in the air. In the aviation industry there is generally no such secrecy; the industry does try to learn from its mistakes and moves on. The same cannot be said for manufacturers of these pieces of industrial machinery and their operators who prefer the 'clean and green' image to this rather ugly reality. I do not take great enjoyment in wallowing in the shadow of these events, but I am growing very weary of the ridiculous attempts of the industry to pretend that these incidents are nothing to worry about. They are.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Assel Valley wind farm # 5

Just when you think it was going quiet in the run-up to Christmas - things start getting noisy again. On November 17 2011, I reported that that Coriolis Energy were looking to amend their layout for the Assel Valley wind farm. In that post, I reported that there appeared to be a difference of opinion as to whether a new planning application was required. Well, that now appears to have been settled. South Ayrshire Council have made it very clear to Coriolis that their amendments 'are substantial and extensive'. Included below is the text of the email sent to Coriolis making South Ayrshire Council's position very clear:

Thanks for your e-mail and discussion on the phone earlier today.

I've had a look at your submitted alterations to the proposals for Assel Valley and note that they would result in the removal of turbines 11, and 13-17 (ie 6 of the 17 originally proposed), the removal of one of the anemometry masts and the reduction of height of the remaining proposed turbines from 126.5 m to 110m (to blade tip). This represents a significant alteration to planning application 11/00654/APPM as submitted.

Paragraph D.7.4 of the SNH Handbook to which you refer in your letter of 9th November states "From a procedural point of view, whether the modifications can be accepted as an amendment, without a new application being made, is a decision for the Competent Authority alone"

The document continues by providing guidance in paragraph D.7.5, stating the key question will be: Whether the modifications are so extensive as to amount to a different project proposal in which case a new application should be made; or Whether the modifications are significant but not extensive in which case a new application is generally not required but the Competent Authority should re-consult and re-notify and re-publicise the proposal; or Whether the modifications are not so significant as to merit re-consulting and re-publicising generally, but may be appropriate for selected consultees to comment or whether no consultees need comment.

As indicated in my first full paragraph, I am in no doubt that the proposed amendments are substantial and extensive. I readily acknowledge that the proposal would still essentially be for a windfarm, but the amended proposal would be at significant variance from the description of proposal submitted on the planning application form, which specified 17 turbines of up to 126.5 metres. South Ayrshire Councils Priority Projects Service Standards advises "where changes to a proposal result in an application that is materially different to the original application, the Planning Authority cannot accept these changes as part of the existing planning application."

Whilst I make no comment on the desirability or otherwise of the proposed reduction in turbine numbers or their heights, I am of the opinion that the proposed alterations are of a magnitude that constitute a different project proposal.

In light of the above, and in accordance with the Service Standard, I offer you the opportunity to withdraw planning application 11/00564/APPM, or ask if you wish the Planning Authority to determine the application as it was originally submitted.

South Ayrshire Council really do have to be applauded for standing up to Coriolis and resisting the attempt to brow-beat them into accepting the proposed changes as part of the original planning application using irrelevant case law. And the response from Coriolis? Well, they appear to have thrown their toys out of the cot and have decided to continue with their original application. In an attempt to try and assuage local opposition, Coriolis have submitted the following document as part of their application in response to the objections that have been raised to their application. Its quite an amusing read - if you read BETWEEN the lines.

Assel Valley is turning out to be a VERY important and 'interesting' application; never, ever a dull moment!

Going over like dominoes

In my post entitled Accidentally speaking, I wrote about some of the potential problems wind turbines have - from falling over to catching fire and how these hazards do not seem to come close to making it onto the radar of either the planning authorities or developers.

Well, it seems that we have had our first catastrophic failure of a turbine tower here in Scotland, and reports suggest that the rotor was turning at the time of the collapse. This incident happened yesterday. Fortunately, in this particular case nobody was hurt. However, I would like to think that this particular accident will act as a wake up call to both the planners and the developers.

And if that wasn't enough, this one in North Ayrshire caught fire earlier today after what appears to have been a problem with its braking system......

Two failures of this nature within 24 hours really should start to ring alarm bells; alarm bells that in reality should have been ringing for quite a while now......

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Breaker Hill wind farm # 9

This is a memory jogger for the Breaker Hill wind farm application - given the prximity of Christmas. Comments on the newly submitted documents can be made up until December 28, 2011. However, please remember that additional comments must relate purely to the newly submitted documents only, so you shouldn't comment unless you feel there really is something additional that is significant. To avoid postal delays, additional comments are probably best submitted online via this link.

Scottish National Wind Farm Conference 2011 - follow up

Below are links to the documents from the Scottish National Wind Farm Conference held in Ayr on November 11, 2011. Not all presentations have been made available, although a DVD of the event can be purchased from CATS for a fairly modest sum from here.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A whole new industry

In the Scottish Government's 2010 Draft Energy Policy Statement, there is an energy mix for the 2020, 80% targets (Annexe A, Table 1 refers). Now, I know the target is now 100%, but more than 6 months after the policy shift was announced, we still do not know what the new energy mix will be - not publicly anyway. Since a growing number of people are getting more and more concerned about what is going on outside their windows (at least in relation to wind turbines), I decided to have a look at the 80% target energy mix and see how we are doing against that - sort of an end of term report really and the numbers are more than a little curious.

The 80% target energy mix requires an installed onshore wind capacity of 6,500MW by 2020, 7,500MW by 2030, and an interim figure of 5,000MW by 2015. Remember, this is onshore wind. According to Scottish Renewables, at the time of posting, there was an installed capacity of 2,784.67MW for wind as a whole. Installed Scottish offshore wind, as far as I am aware is currently limited to just 190MW - although if you know different please let me know. Subtracting the installed offshore figure from the 2,784.67MW gives us 2,594.67MW of onshore installed capacity - as of now. The first thing to notice is that we almost need to double our installed capacity to reach the interim 2015 target of 5,000MW. So, if you think what we have now is a problem, the bad news is it's going to get a whole lot worse - twice as worse - to be precise. Turning to the 2020 target (6,500MW) our current installed onshore capacity represents just 39%, and looking further ahead to 2030, our current installed capacity represents just 34% of the target capacity. Clearly then, a lot more onshore wind is going to be required, and it doesn't look like it is being installed at the required rate to hit the mix targets. So, in summary - we're not doing very well.

But hang on a minute. The same 80% energy mix figures state the following target values for offshore wind: 500MW for 2015, 1500MW for 2020 and 3000MW for 2030. Now, Renewables UK detail the following large offshore projects:

  • Moray Firth - 1500MW
  • Firth of Forth - 3500MW
  • Neart na Gaoithe - 450MW
  • Islay - 680MW
  • Inch Cape - 1500MW
  • Beatrice - 920MW
  • Argyll Array - 1500MW

Adding these numbers up, we come to 10,050MW or 10GW. Err, hang on a minute - what were the 80% offshore targets? 500MW(0.5GW) for 2015, 1500MW(1.5GW) for 2020 and 3000MW(3GW) for 2030. So, current large scale proposals for offshore wind projects total 335% of the 80%, 2030 target offshore energy mix (assuming all of the above are built and operational by 2030). That's quite an over-capacity. Not all of these will be built, well I hope not anyway. Wigtown Bay has shown us that offshore projects do get withdrawn, and the size of these developments are mind boggling. So, loosing some during the planning process will obviously reduce the installed capacity figure by quite a wide margin. However, we should start asking ourselves why such a massive over capacity?

Going back once again to the 80% energy mix figures, we can read off a total installed generational capacity for 2020 for Scotland - its 16,748MW, or 16.748GW. So, that 10.05GW of offshore capacity would represent a massive 60% of Scotland's total 2020 generational capacity, yet the 80% energy mix figures call for offshore wind to represent just 8.9% of total capacity (1.5GW out of 16.748GW).

Are we starting to see the future in terms of the 100% energy mix? I think so. And if we have a look at the map below that shows 'research areas' for additional offshore wind farm capacity:

a pretty horrendous picture starts to emerge. According to this article, these areas could accommodate a further 10GW of offshore capacity. This then is Scotland's future. The national imperative so often stated in support of planning applications for wind farms is somewhat irrelevant. The wrecking of people's lives and the natural environment is not about securing our energy future, it's about our new industry - energy export - I just hope there's a market for it as otherwise the planned, wanton vandalism will have been for absolutely nothing. Oh, and if you want to see what the potential impact of large offshore is, visit this site. To me, offshore is well, offshore - right offshore - like, over the horizon offshore. Clearly, the industry has other ideas and we wouldn't want to inconvenience the industry now would we? And who pays for all of this this - I'll leave you to figure that out.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Debating the debacle

Yesterday's debate in Holyrood was a curious affair. It was pretty well attended by the public, with the public gallery being about 60% full. The motion, presented by Neil Findlay received wide cross party support. MSPs of all colours lined up to give a 'me too' sort of party feel to the event. Even SNP MSP Adam Ingram spoke largely in support of the motion (although he couldn't resist a dig at Struan Stevenson first). Things were looking good. The issue of the role of central government reversing local planning authority decisions was a common theme during individual contributions, as was the cumulative effect of wind farm developments and the role of community benefit funds (CBF). Unfortunately, we then had to sit through the poor performance of the SNP taking the party line against the motion.

Chic Brodie seemed more interested in talking about removing the 'noise and emotion' from the debate, whilst trying to blame Westminster for our current wind farm woes. He has perhaps forgotten that the two policies that underpin this mess are uniquely SNP (100% electricity generation from renewables, and no new nuclear) and that the emotion is there because people are sick and tired of being ignored. Additionally, it is a pity that the surprise he expressed at Ayr in terms of the magnitude of onshore wind farm development when he caught site of the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wind farm footprint maps did not carry through to the debating chamber. Consequently, I can only assume the words he spoke in Ayr were designed to try and calm the delegates in attendance rather than take anything back to Holyrood with a view to doing something useful.

The sacrificial minister put in probably the worst performance you are ever likely to encounter in such a debate despite having nearly twice as long to speak as the individuals who spoke in support of the motion. He addressed none of the issues raised by the preceding speakers in any meaningful sort of way. Indeed, the only real value he bought to the debate was the announcement of more Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) policy/guidance on wind farms and that Scottish and SOuthern Energy has announced that its policy on all CBFs is now to pay £5,000/MWH. Unfortunately, what SNH say carries little weight in reality; their ability to influence the sensible implementation of Scottish Government policy is strictly limited. The lack of SNH MSPs attending the debate was also a real concern. Presumably then, all of their constituencies are not encountering any of the problems everyone else seems to be encountering. Adam Ingram appears to be able, and happy to pin his colours to the mast - but he looked rather lonely to be quite honest. A full video of the debate should be available from here shortly.

So, was it worth it? Yes I think so. The issues faced by communities and individuals are getting wider and wider coverage and taking them to the seat of power can only ever be a good thing. Long term, I think people really need to (continue or start to) badger their MSPs if they have concerns about wind farms - this mess came out of Holyrood, is managed by Holyrood and is likely only ever to be solved there - and only if large numbers of people make their feelings known - continually.

A transcript of the debate can be found here (starting on page 4292, which is actually page 74 of the document itself).

Thursday, 1 December 2011

That's settled then

So, the Davis family settled their noise nuisance case out of court yesterday. I have mixed feelings about this. Whilst I am genuinely pleased for them, in the sense that they can probably now get on with their lives without the spectre of a High Court case influencing their daily lives, it is sad that the opportunity for a precedent has at least for now receded. I completely understand why this couple settled - it was after all their battle, not a battle on behalf of similar sufferers the world over.

However, the out of court resolution of this case is in itself indicative that there can indeed be a problem with noise nuisance from wind farms. The case would not have lasted as long as it did if it was a frivolous action. Indeed, the fact that the case was settled out of court indicates to me at least that the energy company concerned probably realised the game was up and that they needed to do something to limit the damage not only to themselves, but to the industry as a whole.

The take home message for me is that if individuals can find a way of financing such actions and they have sufficiently robust evidence of their complaint, then they should seriously consider litigation. If sufficient actions are bought, perhaps one day one of them will result in a legal ruling of value to everyone. In the meantime, we can only hope that legislators, planners and developers across the country will take note and consider the consequences of sighting turbines too close to people's houses, after all the Davis family have now shown that there is mileage in pursuing noise nuisance cases.