21.06.2012 - Deranged? Tory MEP 'blasts' Ascog wind farm plan

Earlier today local paper The Buteman published an article in which Scotland's only Conservative Member of the European Parliament - Mr Struan Stevenson - 'opposed' the idea of a wind energy project at Ascog Farm, Bute.

Well, a couple of hours after the first article at 0721hrs came another at 0926hrs as the paper hit the news-stands in which Mr Stevenson's views - if he penned them himself rather than just putting his name to them - are fully aired. This time he's 'blasting'...

And what views they are! A classic of the genre of anti-wind farm campaigning and one where - as a self-professed shale gas loving and Donald Trump admiring figure - one has to question the author's sanity.

Read on to learn of the brain-frying dangers and turbine terrors that lurk in one of the most benign power generation systems currently in operation...

Running off The Buteman's online copy "Mr Stevenson's views on the application, in full" are reproduced below (in italics) with some useful facts and further reading suggestions in normal type.

  • A planning application for wind turbines at Ascog Farm has not yet been presented to Argyll & Bute Council.
  • When an application is lodged it will be accompanied by a several hundred page long, independently and scientifically prepared, Environmental Impact Assessment that has taken well over a year to research and collate.
VERSE: Why destroy some of our most pristine, ancient landscape in order to build wind turbines that will last 20 years at a push? That is just one of the concerns raised by Bute islanders in a series of recent community meetings to discuss the three planned wind turbines at Ascog Farm
  • The term 'landscape' is frequently abused by anti-wind campaigners who often claim that 'We all face a responsibility to tackle climate change' (see below!) but fight like hell to prevent anyone actually doing anything about it.
  • Although Bute does indeed have remnants of 'ancient landscape' (such as standing stones or old oak forest) there is little remaining at Ascog, which like much of the Island has been comprehensively cleared and farmed for hundreds of years.
  • Much of what is seen in the 'landscape' is, of course, man-made and a famous essay in Geography as far back as 1938 noted that 'Man Made the Land'.
  • Bute has a surprisingly industrial past:
    • Hydro power in the days before Loch Ascog was dammed powered three mills for 'grinding corn, fulling cloth and carding wool' (Bute: A Guide, p85).
    • Hydrocarbons were extracted in the form of coal from the now abandoned Ascog Coal Mine.
    • Robert Thom's system of cuts created a 70 horsepower hydro mill in the 1820s so 'Rothesay holds a significant place at the heart of Scotland's industrial take-off' (Bute: A Guide, p299).
    • The Marquesses of Bute signifiantly enhanced their fortune through coal mining and shipping operations in South Wales and overseas
    • Most of the grand houses looking out to sea from Bute were built by wealthy Glasgow industrialists and merchants
  • The agricultural landscape was itself industrialised in the early 1700s through 'scrapping the infield-open field system to enclose and consolidate landholdings; improving arable and pasture soil by the burning and liming of the landscape...; sowing imported rye grass to improve pasturage; increasing productive land by draining mosses and reclaiming moorland; planting woodlands to provide the timber and underwood for building, farm implements and fuel as well as planting tree windbreaks for crops; improving the livestock through the introduction of new English breeds, and providing root crops to carry livestock through the winter; modernising implements, for example replacing the heavy wooden Scotch plough by a lighter iron one... [and]; finally, introducing carts and other wheeled vehicles.' (Bute: A Guide, p258)
  • Given the long history of hydro and then hydrocarbon power production immediately around Ascog why not now consider Wind power? It's not as if this 'pristine, ancient landscape' has never changed is it?
  • Bute has man-made landscape features such as roads, buildings, barns, stone walls, improved fields, forests and hedges. Some of these items may be regarded as 'pristine', many of them - such as the various derelict buildings in Rothesay or untenanted farms in the countryside - are not.
  • Building turbines at Ascog Farm will not 'destroy' any ancient landscape. The land is improved pasture and has been for generations.
  • If planning permission for turbines is granted Argyll & Bute Council would require that the land be reinstated, a straightforward enough process (contrasted against, for example, the decommissioning of a nuclear or coal plant) if another operating licence were not approved in the future.
VERSE: Contrary to the belief of Adrian Tear, the man behind the plans, these turbines will not help to reduce carbon emissions and halt climate change.
  • The development is anticipated to have a maximum installed capacity of 2.4 MW and yield assessments based on the modelled wind resource (now being accurately recorded by the meteorological mast) indicate that up to 7.36 GWh per year of electricity may be generated. This equates to the consumption of approximately 1,895 homes and in turn offsets around 3,209 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions each year.
  • Renewables UK (a trade body, we are not members) state that 'The average wind farm will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within 3-5 months of operation. This compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months. A modern wind turbine is designed to operate for more than 20 years and at the end of its working life, the area can be restored at low financial and environmental costs. Wind energy is a form of development which is essentially reversible 'in contrast to fossil fuel or nuclear power stations.'
  • Three turbines on Bute will, of course, fail to 'halt climate change' by themselves. However, every MWh of power that is generated from renewable sources reduces the release of CO2 that would otherwise result from the burning of fossil fuels.
VERSE: In a presentation to Bute Community Council on the day that planning permission was granted for a temporary 50-metre wind monitoring mast at Ascog Farm, Mr Tear spoke of polar ice caps melting and sea-levels rising. He noted that his children's children may live to see the island start to go under water.
  • What Adrian actually said is that it is 'not inconceivable' that within the lifetime of his childrens' children melting of the ice caps may result in sea level change that could start to see parts of the island go under water.
  • Adrian's youngest son is now 8 years old. If, like his father, he starts a family around the age of 30 and his children live for 80 years then the time frame under discussion is over 100 years.
  • Writing in Nature (one of the world's most respected scientific journals) Joughin & Alley state that 'Ice sheets are expected to shrink in size as the world warms, which in turn will raise sea level. The West Antarctic ice sheet is of particular concern, because it was probably much smaller at times during the past million years when temperatures were comparable to levels that might be reached or exceeded within the next few centuries. Much of the grounded ice in West Antarctica lies on a bed that deepens inland and extends well below sea level. Oceanic and atmospheric warming threaten to reduce or eliminate the floating ice shelves that buttress the ice sheet at present. Loss of the ice shelves would accelerate the flow of non-floating ice near the coast. Because of the slope of the sea bed, the consequent thinning could ultimately float much of the ice sheet's interior. In this scenario, global sea level would rise by more than three metres, at an unknown rate. Simplified analyses suggest that much of the ice sheet will survive beyond this century. We do not know how likely or inevitable eventual collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is at this stage, but the possibility cannot be discarded. For confident projections of the fate of the ice sheet and the rate of any collapse, further work including the development of well-validated physical models will be required.'
  • Read that last bullet again: 'Loss of the ice shelves would accelerate the flow of non-floating ice near the coast. Because of the slope of the sea bed, the consequent thinning could ultimately float much of the ice sheet's interior. In this scenario, global sea level would rise by more than three metres, at an unknown rate.' [my underlining]
  • Three metre sea level changes would flood a lot of the coastal settlement around Bute and around the West Coast of Scotland in general. Bute already suffers from occasional flooding at high tides even with new sea defences.
  • Nobody knows when or indeed whether this will happen but the scientific consensus appears to be that anthropomorphic (i.e. man-made) climate change could increase the probability of such an event.
  • There is a vast amount of scientific literature on this subject. A few good places to start include:
  • Study of pre-history suggests that the Earth's climate quite often makes 'step-changes' which occur quickly (in geological time) and are abrupt in nature. 10,000 years ago Bute was covered by ice! At the end of the Ice Age what we now think of as Bute was three separate islands!
  • Change happens. If burning less fossil fuel and maximising the potential of renewable energy sources helps us avert potentially catastrophic change shouldn't we be giving it a go?
VERSE: We all face a responsibility to tackle climate change, but this type of blatant scaremongering is wholly unacceptable. Mr Tear's three turbines will do nothing more than despoil the landscape and reduce the value of local land.
  • Now we're getting somewhere! The turbines will 'despoil the landscape' and 'reduce the value of local land'! Let's look at those two in turn...
  • Turbines will 'despoil the landscape':
    • Allusions to the 'despoilment' of the 'landscape' are common in anti-wind protests.
    • A quick search on Google shows text such as 'My constituency is also heavily under attack from wind farm developers who want to despoil our magnificent unique landscape. This High Court decision should ... ' or (regarding Trump) '... tycoon tries to cajole and haggle over a wind turbine test project due to ... the proliferation of "monstrous turbines" will despoil the landscape, ...'
    • The word 'despoil' is defined (Webster's) as 'to strip of belongings, possessions, or value : pillage'.
    • The word 'despoil' also carries strong connotations of rape and is therefore a powerful word in the English language. Perhaps that's why the anti-wind brigade like using it so much!
    • As noted above, the 'landscape' is in very large part a man-made creation and is arguably a psychological and subjective construct of those who look at it.
    • On the farm, in contrast to the imageries of pillage and rape portrayed by 'despoilment', we actually spend all year looking after the land!
    • We also think that if you don't look after the environment (you know, the really big thing that has climate, drives ocean currents, changes big things) the landscape (what we look at, which is changing all the time) could change far more irrevocably than it has done to date, or would do with three more wind turbines added to it.
    • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We would be proud to show - and to have turbines show - that a significant investment on Bute could provide an excellent source of clean, modern power for many years to come.
  • Turbines will 'reduce the value of local land':
    • We accept that the wind blows over all our heads. That's one of the reasons we enrolled in the Scottish Government's Community and Renewable Energy Scotland (CARES) scheme which guarantees that successful wind energy projects must feed revenue back to the community through a properly constituted local partner. Our chosen partner is Towards Zero Carbon Bute (TZCB). TZCB works to promote energy conservation, recycling and other green initiatives on the Island.
    • As TZCB points out:
      • Argyll & Bute has a higher than average number of properties (88.5%) that are non-compliant with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS) so there is a high proportion of hard-to-heat, hard-to-treat housing (pre-1919, stone built, one and a half storey properties) with low levels of insulation and double glazing.
      • This combines with harsh weather conditions to reduce the energy efficiency ratings of properties.
    • As for land values:
      • A report by the University of St.Andrews suggests "that trying to assess the impact of wind farms on property values is a complex and emotive subject. Apparent changes in value disappear when examined more closely and the objections that are raised are often found to be less about genuine local concerns and more about wider ideological issues."
      • A US-based study The Impact of Wind Power Projects on Residential Property Values in the United States "collected data on almost 7,500 sales of single family homes situated within 10 miles of 24 existing wind facilities in nine different U.S. states [finding] that none of the [eight different hedonic pricing] models uncovers conclusive evidence of the existence of any widespread property value impacts that might be present in communities surrounding wind energy facilities. Specifically, neither the view of the wind facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities is found to have any consistent, measurable, and statistically significant effect on home sales prices."
    • Anti-wind protestors, and Tories in particular, like to frighten people by suggesting their house prices will collapse. There does not appear to be any evidence for this.
    • Perhaps, as Franklin Roosevelt noted during another period of Great Depression, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'
VERSE: More worryingly, the Scottish Government's recommendation of a 2km separation distance between turbines and residential dwellings has been completely ignored. These turbines will be spaced between three hundred and 450 metres apart, leaving just five hundred metres between the turbines and some residential homes, including Balmory Hall which is a Grade-A listed mansion house and gate lodge of outstanding national architectural importance.

The turbines will also impact Ascog Hall and its rare Victorian fernery, Southpark, two Landmark Trust properties and at least another 11 listed properties in the surrounding area.
  • The 'Scottish Government's recommendation of a 2km separation distance between turbines and residential dwellings' is something of a red herring:
    • House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/SC/5221 (8 June 2012) states "People are often concerned that wind farms might be too close to houses. There are no statutory limits in the UK."
    • The document goes on to report that Scottish Planning Policy states "A separation distance of up to 2km between areas of search and the edge of cities, towns and villages is recommended to guide developments to the most appropriate sites and to reduce visual impact, but decisions on individual developments should take into account specific local circumstances and geography. Development plans should recognise that the existence of these constraints on wind farm development does not impose a blanket restriction on development, and should be clear on the extent of constraints and the factors that should be satisfactorily addressed to enable development to take place. Planning authorities should not impose additional zones of protection around areas designated for their landscape or natural heritage value."
    • There are few dwellings close to the proposed site and the town of Rothesay is over two miles away in a straight line, just over three by the coast road. Many of the dwellings around the Ascog area of Rothesay (or 'Ascog village' as some local residents would rather have it) are on the shoreline at the water's edge with the substantial cliff of a raised beach behind them blocking the up-slope view.
    • Scottish Government Planning Policies (referred to in House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/SC/5221 (8 June 2012)) are complex and will require investigation by competently qualified Town Planners rather than irreverent commentators.
  • The impact of any turbine development on architectural heritage has been closely studied as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment. An extract from the draft reads:
    • The listed buildings at Ascog comprise a number of substantial high-status houses built during the 19th century, largely for wealthy Glasgow businessmen and landowners; these are largely Category B listed and of regional importance, although Balmory Hall is listed at Category A and is of national importance. These houses were designed to take advantage of the relative proximity to Glasgow and the landscape situation overlooking the Firth of Clyde. As is consistent with the date of their construction, their settings afford a high level of privacy and enclosure, with screening planting preserving clearly demarcated plots and landholdings. The settings of individual buildings are defined by their associated grounds and relationships with immediately adjacent structures. Taken as a group, the setting of these assets comprises the narrow coastal strip and the lower slopes of the hillside on which buildings have been constructed.
    • These buildings were designed to reflect the wealth and status of their inhabitants, but primarily from relatively close proximity in intimate revealed views as invited guests and visitors approached the houses. Consequently, their prominence in views from the coast road is restricted. How far the visibility of these houses from the Firth of Clyde reflects deliberate design, and how far it reflects the need to provide views back to the east from these houses is largely a matter for conjecture. At the separations involved, views of these houses from the Clyde and the mainland do not allow the individual architectural values of these houses to be truly appreciated, and they are seen more as a clustered grouping.
    • The potential for significant indirect effects is largely conditioned by the topography of the study area, the extent of planting on the lower slopes of the coastal hill side and the focus of settlement along the coastal strip from Ascog north through Rothesay and into Port Bannatyne. These factors combine to restrict the settings of the identified designated heritage assets and to reduce visibility of the proposed turbines from these assets.
  • Much more information about the impact on individual architectural assets will be given as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • As elsewhere, specious and alarmist comments are unwelcome.
VERSE: The wind turbines will impact tourism, a vital source of income for many islanders. Besides being home to some of Scotland's finest heritage sites including Rothesay Castle, Mount Stuart House, St Blane's Chapel and numerous standing stones and stones circles, the Isle of Bute is a haven for nature tourists.

More than one hundred species of birds live on Bute, attracting many dedicated ornithologists. People travel from all over Scotland and from further afield for rambling, cycling and fishing holidays on the Island. Rothesay Golf Course, Port Bannatyne Golf Course and Bute Golf Course are arguably some of Scotland's most scenic courses and the importance of golf to Bute's economy simply cannot be overstated.
  • Impacts of wind farms on tourism are another favourite old chestnut of the anti-wind brigade.
  • As elsewhere with the 'wind debate' there is room for conjecture on both sides. However:
    • The most recent (24 April 2012) independently conducted opinion poll into the subject for VisitScotland suggests that "The presence of a wind farm would have little impact on a decision to holiday in Scotland."
    • The research, based on over 3,000 interviewee responses rather than a hotch potch of opinion and prejudice, found that only 8.3% 'Strongly Agreed' with the statement 'Wind farms spoil the look of the UK (Scottish) countryside'.
    • VisitScotland Chief Executive, Malcolm Roughead, who might be expected to have an interest in understanding tourist perceptions of Scotland, said "We sell Scotland to the world, bringing millions of visitors to the country and boosting the economy by billions of pounds. The visitor experience is therefore a huge priority for us - we know visitors come here for the scenery and landscapes and our marketing activity works hard to promote those aspects. And so we are both reassured and encouraged by the findings of this survey which suggest that, at the current time, the overwhelming majority of consumers do not feel wind farms spoil the look of the countryside."
    • Wind farm locations have also become successful tourist sites. There is an excellent visitor centre at Whitelee Wind Farm at Eaglesham near Glasgow which recently became a member of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions having recorded over 250,000 visitors since opening in 2009 - a figure most tourist businesses on the Isle of Bute would die for.
  • As for birds, the draft Environmental Impact Assessment devotes dozens of pages to study work carried out on site:
    • The proposed turbines lie 300 m to the north-east of Loch Ascog, which forms part of the Central Lochs, Bute SSSI, designated for internationally important numbers of wintering Icelandic Greylag Geese
    • Up to 1,160 Greylag Geese were present on and around Loch Ascog between December and early April, with most feeding and flight activity in the immediate vicinity of the loch. Only 23 geese were seen flying within 250 m of the proposed turbines during 48 hours of observation between October and April.
    • With such low numbers of a low range of high or very high sensitivity species, any potential collision risk or displacement impacts on birds at this site are likely to be of low or very low significance.
    • As the RSPB has shown by building its own (albeit rather small) wind turbine, a carefully sited wind farm development need not have any detrimental ornithological impact!
  • As for golf, aside from Donald Trump's widely publicised opposition to offshore turbines, it is usual for golfers to be focused on the round and the 19th hole. The presence of wind turbines is unlikely to be terribly offputting and might even provide something to aim at!
VERSE:  If constructed, the turbines will intrude on many of Bute's tourist attractions, but the potentially hazardous impacts of the turbines on local residents' health are most worrying. The health impact of wind farms has recently become a hot topic in the media and independent biomedical experts have shown that living close to a turbine can cause headaches, dizziness, sleep deprivation, unsteadiness, nausea, exhaustion, mood-swings and the inability to concentrate.

The low-frequency noise emitted by a turbine travels easily and varies according to the wind. This constitutes a permanent risk to people exposed to it. There is even military weaponry that relies on low-frequency sound for crowd control purposes.

At high intensities it creates discrepancies in the brain, producing disorientation in the body and resulting in what is called 'simulated sickness'. The Israeli army uses this technology to cause instability, nausea and headaches. It is great for crowd control as it has no adverse effects...unless you are exposed to it for hours, as you would be if you lived beside a turbine.

Turbine noise is particularly dangerous when combined with visual effects such as shadow flicker. This compounds the adverse impact on residents and can induce both physical and psychological symptoms. Visual flicker and 'strobing' effects occur at certain times of the day, similar to when you drive past a row of trees with the sun behind them. Night-time flicker can also occur with the rising and setting of the moon.

On elevated ridges or hills, tall turbines can cast shadows for thousands of feet, well above any vegetative screening and nearby residents will be exposed to numerous shadow flickers simultaneously. That is, all three blades of each turbine will cause flicker, and the flicker from each turbine will not be synchronised.

Needless to say, the Scottish Government has yet to legislate properly against shadow flicker or any other of the potentially hazardous health consequences of turbines. But the threat is very real and must be considered by the planners at Argyll and Bute Council and by Community Energy Scotland, who have endorsed the planned turbines at Ascog Farm.
  • This is where it all starts to get a little, how shall we put this, strange?
    • How would planning authorities (or, more likely, the notoriously strict German safety authorities, and we're looking at German made Enercon hardware) allow firms to make or install machinery that would put people's health at risk?
    • Since wind farms have been operational in the UK since 1991 and a large number now exist all over the country, where are the hundreds or thousands of sufferers? Or are people suffering under a delusion?
    • What relationship do wind farms have with Ultra Low Frequency Weapons? Why are they being mentioned in the same breath?
    • Renewables UK has an interesting analysis of the low-frequency noise 'issue' in which Dr Geoff Leventhall, Consultant in Noise Vibration and Acoustics and author of the 2003 Defra Report on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects, says: "I can state quite categorically that there is no significant infrasound from current designs of wind turbines."
  • It seems more likely that "the potentially hazardous impacts of the turbines on local residents' health" are a bad case of Wind Turbine Syndrome.
  • In the real world, as that well-known fount of knowledge Wikipedia mentions:
    • Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is relatively minor. Wind power consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources. The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months. While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure made unavailable for use.
    • There are reports of bird and bat mortality at wind turbines as there are around other artificial structures. The scale of the ecological impact may or may not be significant, depending on specific circumstances. Prevention and mitigation of wildlife fatalities, and protection of peat bogs, affect the siting and operation of wind turbines
    • There are anecdotal reports of negative effects from noise on people who live very close to wind turbines. Peer-reviewed research has generally not supported these statements.
  • Let's hope that the Planning Officers at Argyll & Bute Council do indeed do a thorough job once the planning application and associated Environmental Impact Assessment is lodged and that their professionalism - and that of their political masters' - is not perturbed, as the anti-wind campaign would have it, by the sensationalist and largely inaccurate writing we have seen above.
  • Meantime, let's try to avoid trotting out the same anti-wind farm propoganda that seemingly accompanies every potential development, aggravates everyone, puts tourists off visiting a place because it's in the news all the time for all the wrong reasons and is generally pursued wherever it occurs by a few local NIMBY protestors.
  • Some people (polling would tend to indicate around 6-8%) may object strongly to wind turbines because they don't like the look of them but that's no reason to ascribe all sorts of scares to the technology which is, until something better comes along, probably one of the greenest ways of generating electricity!

Struan Stevenson attests that he is President of the European Parliament's Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development Intergroup.

With people like this claiming to represent us we should be very worried indeed.