Blowing in The Wind

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Words: Murray Wyatt (He/Him)

‘Scotland’s green sector generated more energy than the country used for the first time.’ 

How great does this sound from the Scottish Government? As a landmark statistic in the drive towards net-zero, this seems undeniably progressive. A record renewable energy output reported in Scotland has produced waves of repercussions. As governments continue to present themselves as allies with climate change resistance in tackling the climate crisis and striving for a more sustainable future, very little is discussed around the impact that modern green infrastructure has on local communities. How much of it really benefits us?

On the 26th of January 2024, the Scottish government confirmed that 113% of Scotland’s overall electricity consumption in 2022 was generated from renewable energy sources. As a 26% increase from 2021 levels, sustainable choices seem to be ever improving during this crucial intervention window of the climate emergency. Having just experienced the warmest February on record globally, this statistic is a brilliant (and reassuring) step forward. 

Only 20 minutes from Glasgow’s City Centre lies the largest onshore wind farm in the UK. Whitelee’s wind farm is home to 215 turbines, enough to power 350,000 homes. On top of this, plans are underway to launch a state-of-the-art hydrogen storage facility, estimated ‘to help power the next generation of public transport’. Put simply, the facility will convert water into hydrogen gas to store energy used to supply local public transport with zero-carbon fuel. The potential is huge. The BBC reports that it could provide the equivalent of ‘enough zero-carbon fuel for 225 buses travelling to and from Glasgow to Edinburgh each day’. This would be an amazing addition to the climate consciousness of the average Scot, pushing for an ever greener, decarbonised public transport system. This ‘trailblazing’ hydrogen storage project has been backed by just shy of £10 million in UK government funding. Following Glasgow’s hosting of COP26, climate change mitigation isn’t the only motivation behind the ambitious project. It also creates high-skilled engineering jobs for local people, as well as over 4,000 jobs provided during the Whitelee’s peak construction years. This ultimately improves the employment prospects for its surrounding communities.

However, it is not all flowers and butterflies for the local communities surrounding Whitelee’s wind farm. Communities in the Scottish Borders are being ‘engulfed’ by wind farms as locals’ complaints are ignored. Many locals feel their concerns about noise pollution and the visual ‘domination’ of the turbines have been ‘silenced and sidelined’. The farm shares its home with a variety of wildlife, including endangered bird species. Many argue that Whitelee’s wind farm could cause further environmental damage such as wildlife habitat depletion. Although it is important to have onshore wind farms in the central belt to cater for Scotland’s biggest population concentrations, NIMBYism is a genuine concern, and local people should be properly listened to. What seems like a sweet green dream for some may be a nightmare for others.

The Scotsman reports that a frequent complaint made by locals is that the wind farms are creating energy ‘far in excess’ of what the country needs. Scotland’s net exports of energy saw an increase in 2022 of 18.7 TWh, from 16 TWh in 2021. As such, energy is increasingly being exported across international borders. Despite helping other countries to go ‘green’, one might argue that this deepens local injustice. Why should local communities bear the brunt of a project that benefits overseas nations?

Further North, wind farm developments in the Scottish Highlands are also facing criticism from surrounding communities. The German company EnergieKontor intends to utilise the open land to build a wind farm in Strath Oykel, but the community are fighting back. Citizens declare that it will ‘devastate local residents’ day-to-day lives’. Campaign group No Right of Steel claim that there is a serious risk that the project would damage tourism, scenery, wildlife, and the quality of local rivers, ‘renowned across the world for fresh-water fishing’. The impact on local quality of life and environment should be taken seriously by the Scottish government when planning such ambitious projects. Ultimately, it is a delicate balancing act between local disadvantages and wider “green” advantages.

As we enter the climate crisis, wind power serves as a vital sustainable energy source. A green future is undeniably necessary for our planet, but it comes at a cost. Does the damage to local environments and communities mean we should backtrack on certain proposals? Could these issues be avoided by the government consulting local communities? Fundamentally, should local communities pay the cost of generating green energy for the international market? These are the questions I will be asking myself next time I look out across the horizon from Kelvingrove park to the wind turbines on Glasgow’s fringe, and I invite you to do so too.


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