CAITHNESS could become an industrial wasteland if the number of wind farms continues to increase.
That was the claim made by Stuart Young, chairman of Caithness Wind Information Forum.
He argues wind farm development will blight the landscape, impact on the tourist industry, put up energy bills and do little to help the economy.
But his claims were rejected by Scottish Renewables, the country’s leading green energy trade association.
Mr Young, speaking to the Groat during a trip round existing and proposed wind farm sites in Caithness, said parts of the county are already an industrial wasteland. The situation will get increasingly worse if more development takes place, he stated.
According to Mr Young, the industry is inefficient, costly and will do little to combat climate change.
He would prefer to see a small to medium-sized nuclear power station built.
“That would be a better answer from an economic and environmental perspective,” he argued.
But Mr Young accepts that is not going to happen as the Scottish Government is opposed to nuclear.
Mr Young, who was accompanied by anti-wind farm campaigner Brenda Herrick, denied he is “scaremongering”.
He said 48 turbines are currently operational – including 21 at the Causewaymire, 15 at Buolfruich near Dunbeath, six at Forss and three each at Bilbster and Achairn near Wick. However, Mr Young said another 87 turbines have been approved or are under construction. They include 25 at Camster which, at 120m high, are 20 per cent higher than those at the Causewaymire, 21 at Baillie, Westfield, 12 at Stroupster, Nybster, and nine at the Burn of Whilk, Yarrows.
Applications for a further 72 turbines, including 24 at Limekiln, Reay, have been submitted but have not yet been determined. And up to 191 are being planned, including up to 60 turbines at Westerdale.
Mr Young expressed concern about the number of single turbines being erected. A total of 28 are operational but a further 25 have been approved or are under construction while another 34 applications have been submitted.
He said wind farms are subsidised, which make them attractive to developers, but it is consumers who pay through higher energy bills.
“The sum is paid to the owners of the electricity supply companies and spread over all the other consumers’ bills. The rates are guaranteed and inflation proofed for 20 years. At today’s values consumers have been committed to finding £38,374,440 to pay to the owners over the next 20 years for no benefit to themselves whatsoever,” continued Mr Young.
He claimed the industry does not create many jobs as the construction work is done outwith the county and maintenance requires few staff.
The increasing number of turbines will impact on tourism as people will not want to come to Caithness if the landscape is cluttered with wind farms, he said.
“People come here to enjoy the unspoiled landscape and will not come here if it is ruined by wind farms,” he stated.
Mrs Herrick agreed and, referring to the turbines being constructed at Camster, said: “Visitors come here to see the Camster Cairns and not these big turbines which look like something from the War of the Worlds film.
Both denied they are scaremongering.
“It is a fact and it is going to get worse and worse,” insisted Mr Young.
Mrs Herrick added: “Once this landscape is gone it is gone and you cannot re-create it.”
Jenny Hogan, director of policy for Scottish Renewables, rebuffed the claims.
“What other industry in Scotland is driving billions of pounds of investment, creating thousands of jobs and training opportunities during a time of economic difficulty and helping us tackle climate change simultaneously?
“We have a robust planning system which seeks to ensure that only the best projects are consented.
“We have yet to see independent evidence to support the view that wind farms have an adverse impact on tourism and, indeed, renewable energy projects across Scotland are becoming tourism attractions in their own right. We would urge people to visit an operating wind farm and judge for themselves.
“We have consistently seen evidence from surveys and polls which shows strong support for renewables.
“The Renewables Obligation – the Government’s main mechanism for supporting the generation of renewable electricity – does have an effect on consumer energy bills, with support for onshore wind costing the average UK household £6 in 2011.
“However, it is important to put this in context, with support for other parts of the energy industry.
“For example, annual UK Government support for nuclear decommissioning is greater than £2 billion and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated that in 2010 tax breaks and financial support for coal, oil and gas in the UK totalled over £3.6bn.”