Donald Trump made headlines again this week with his usual strong criticism of wind farms after he lost his most recent legal challenge against a proposed 11 turbine offshore wind farm development near his Aberdeenshire golf course.
Passionate debate regularly flares up about the best energy sources for future supply needs. Like most things, though, the truth tends to lie between two extremes. It’s my view that instead of discounting one source of energy over the other, we should be having a measured and sensible discussion about the future of energy, our economies and our planet.
The fact is, fossil fuels are getting harder and more expensive to come by. Gone are the days when oil seeped through the ground. Now, deep sea drilling, expensive exploration and the controversial ‘fracking’ is the order of the day.
Carbon outputs are one concern, and the source of government targets across the world. But with fossil fuel electricity stations in the UK reaching the end of their lifespan, we urgently need to replace the capacity which will be lost when they go offline.
Putting aside any environmental or political debates, this accelerating state of affairs is an obvious indication that we need to consider and develop all the options if we want to keep the lights on. And the development of wind farms and their associated technology is part of this.
Wind farms do affect a landscape, yes – the aesthetics are subjective, but the same could be said about pylons. Bear in mind that agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are playing an active role in helping balance wind farm development with protecting Scotland’s unique landscape.
It’s worth noting SNH’s number one priority for preserving the Scottish landscape is to encourage people and businesses to use energy more efficiently so that we reduce the burden of energy required in the first place.
The technology is working. In March it was announced that renewable energy is Scotland’s largest source of power, meeting 49.5% of its needs during 2014.
Onshore wind farm energy accounted for meeting 30% of the overall electricity demand.
Mr Trump’s comparison of wind farm economics to barrels of oil misses the point. Renewable energy, and wind farm technology in particular, is really still in its infancy. Just as fossil fuels required massive investment in building up the infrastructure and industries to support it over many decades, green energy will too. It is still cheaper overall to produce green energy according to Climatic Change’s paper reported on in March by The Guardian.
Barrels of oil was once upon a time a new thing, too. In time, we’ll see more obvious returns and profit as part of the natural process of development.
It is true that subsidies have helped to boost the wind energy sector, and as explained above, this is part of the process of developing a new technology and industry. But to blame wind farms for increasing local taxes is not fair or even correct.
Let’s not forget that traditional technologies also receive subsidies, often in the form of tax breaks. In fact, a recent report by Oil Change International and the Overseas Development Institute details the total annual subsidies for fossil fuels in the UK run into the hundreds of millions.
Subsidies and government support for economically-important industries are part and parcel of economic stability and all elements of a resilient, mixed-source energy sector are worth recipients.
Putting aside environmental and political drivers, developing sustainable renewable energy is a practical necessity unless we want to go back to reading by candlelight. But it need not be in hostile competition with traditional technologies which still offer immediate benefits as well as fertile lessons for industry development.
Wind farms, hydro power and other renewable technologies are relatively young in comparison to the older and stable fossil fuel industries, and there is much each side can learn from the other. We should aim for a balanced approach, rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket.
If you’d like further advice on any aspect of renewable energy, please contact Aileen McCallum, Senior Associate, in our Energy, Shipping and Infrastructure team, on 0131 222 9470 or AMcCallum@hbjgateley.com