Scotland is a windy country. Maps of wind speed show that it’s the windiest place in Europe so it makes sense to use some of this wind energy to meet our electricity needs.
Because of this fantastic energy resource, Scotland is ahead of other parts of the UK when it comes to developing renewable energy. Last month (29th March) it was announced that Scotland was meeting 35% of its electricity demand from renewable sources – and almost 40% of the UK’s renewables output. This puts us well on track to meet our target of 100% by 2020. Much of this renewable generation will come from onshore wind.
The RSPB has always looked very carefully at onshore wind proposals. Even though this can take a significant amount of staff time and resource, we do it because we know that badly planned wind farms can be very harmful to birds and we want to make sure that these risks are reduced.
Scotland has some fantastic places for birds. From seabirds on Shetland to eagles in the Cairngorms and red kites in Galloway. There have been a few arguments along the way of course (such as the well publicised plans for a massive windfarm on the internationally important peatlands of Lewis – thankfully soundly rejected by Scottish Ministers). Nonetheless, overwhelmingly we have managed to work very effectively with the wind industry. We have been able to steer development away from the most sensitive sites and encourage it in less sensitive areas. To do this, our scientists developed a 'bird sensitivity' map for the whole of Scotland, which clearly shows where wind farms would be best placed.
As a result, we have seen a massive increase in the generation of electricity from onshore wind and have avoided environmental disasters seen elsewhere. We certainly can’t let down our guard but wind farms in Scotland are not causing unacceptable harm to birds.
We think the 100% target can be met without harming our most important places for wildlife. However, as we move closer to meeting the target, and as ‘easy’ sites are used up, the challenge to the Scottish Government and all of us in Scotland is clear – ensure that Scotland’s natural environment, upon which we all depend, is protected during the renewables revolution. If we do this, we will meet our renewables targets and become a leader not just in the development of renewable energy but in the sustainable development of renewable energy.
Will the rest of the UK keep up? What do you think?