/ Opinion: Caplich is a Wind Farm Too Far

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UKH Articles - on 26 Feb 2015
Caplich wind farm montage, 4 kbWith its impact on the iconic mountains of the far northwest, a proposed wind farm at Caplich is seen as a major threat by wild land campaigners. Alex Roddie explains why.

Read more at http://www.ukhillwalking.com/articles/page.php?id=7117
noeldarlow on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to UKH Articles:

Don't you think that the subjective impression of spoiled views (which I do share up to a point) is a rather trivial argument when set against the threat of climate change? For example, how long do you think the harmful effects of unmitigated climate change would last?
Only a hill - on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

I agree that climate change needs to be addressed, and quickly. But what about hydro schemes, which are able to provide more constant power and with far lower visual impact? It's also not just about the views — it's about our entire attitude towards wild land.
noeldarlow on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to Only a hill:

I'd support any sane plan which significantly cuts our emissions. Perhaps we should adopt a simple rule: if objections ar emade to any specific development it should only be cancelled if a better alternative with similar emissions reduction potential can be show to exist. If not it must go ahead.

This means we act on the best options we can think of but it also (correctly) places emissions reductions as our first priority and forces us to act even if these require us to locate developments in notionally wild land - but only if there is no alternative.

If you look at a wind map of the British Isles upland and coastal areas are where all the wind is. Even a small increase in average wind speed can dramatically increase the energy available in the wind (proportional to the *cube* of the wind speed) and therefore coastal and upland areas are where turbines have to go. Unfortunately this has a significant overlap with designated wild areas in Scotland and so, given the amount of energy capacity which we need to replace, I don't see how we can avoid extensive wind farm developments throughout the highlands.
Only a hill - on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

The logical endpoint of that argument looks something like wind turbines covering every hill in the UK.

Is that a price worth paying? Converting the world into a giant mechanism to service mankind? Destroying what's left of the biosphere?
GForce1 - on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

Isn't this development on a peat upland, and so will do nothing to reduce co2?

What about the implications of so much wind? At the moment Longannet may be forced to close because it's not financially viable to generate whilst windy.

I think the benefits of these schemes are marginal (except of course £ to the land owners and developers) and difficult to identify with all the political spin.

Accepting that wind works (which I don't) why should Scotland destroy its landscape to power England?
noeldarlow on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to Only a hill:

Wind farms do not destroy the biosphere (!). They have only a minor, temporary impact. Even when they are built on peatlands the impacts need not be severe although that will depend on the details of a given proposal and the care taken with surveying & construction. Some species actually benefit from turbines which protect them from raptors. Of course the flip side of that is the hazard to birds of prey. That is real but not disastrous for any given species.

Turbines will not be a permanent feature of the landscape. One might expect that future technological developments will lead to a gradual reduction in land-based wind. Perhaps the era of extensive upland wind farms would last for a hundred years or so and then die out as turbines are decommissioned and not replaced.

If you are going to make a conservation argument, you also have to factor in the risks of climate change. For example, a mass extinction is threatened which could see the loss of perhaps a quarter of the world's species. Maybe more. For example, half of all US bird species are believed to be at risk of extinction due to climate change.

From the fossil record, we know that it takes several million to several tens of millions of years for biodiversity to recover after an event of this kind. The fossil record also suggests that a large mammal like homo sapiens might expect to survive for a couple of million years or so. Thus, the relatively denuded world we are about to create might endure not just for a few hundred or a few thousand years, but very likely for all of the rest of human history.

It simply isn't possible to mount a serious conservation argument which could trump that. The only "long-term" impact of wind farms will be the access roads which they leave behind but even these will be re-absorbed by the landscape relatively quickly over the centuries.

UK peatlands are specifically threatened by climate change. A warmer climate could end the growth of new peat across most of the UK, except for a rump area in the NW of Scotland. With no new growth, the peat is vulnerable to extreme drought events which gradually nibble away at the bog until nothing is left.

That of course is just one relatively minor effect of the pending global environmental catastrophe. You asked if it's worth scattering wind turbines across the Scottish uplands (which do little real harm except to the view) in order to avoid that. Well yes it is: as far as prices worth paying go, that's an absolute bargain.
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GForce1 - on 26 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

Except wind farms will not solve the problems you mention......and what about the millions of tons of concrete? Each base alone weighs upwards of 3000 tonnes.
noeldarlow on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to GForce1:

Wind farms are a low-carbon source of energy and they do have an important role to play in reducing emissions. However, if you've got a better alternative let's hear it. The carbon calculator here is an interesting tool to play around with: http://my2050.decc.gov.uk/

The foundations are just big lumps of rock in a post-glacial landscape full of big lumps of rock. Every now and then a worm burrowing through the peat will bang its head, turn to the side and wriggle off on its way but that's about it as far as ecological impacts go. Foundations could be broken up and carted out when the turbines are decommissioned although this would cause a fair bit of disruption to the peat and might actually do more harm than good.
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Only a hill - on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

What about hydro schemes?
noeldarlow on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to Only a hill:

Sure. We'll need some hydro too. In order to slash carbon emissions we need a big increase in renewables, as much as we can get. We'll also need to spend big on energy efficiency.
feepole on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to Only a hill:

Agree with much of the argument in article. Not sure about hydro schemes though. Have you been to upper reaches of Glenfinnan lately. Utterly decimated by the bulldozers. Some of these small scale hydro projects are leaving a horrific scar on the landscape.
feepole on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to Only a hill:

*lately?*
AllanMac - on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

I'm usually a very calm, rational person and slow to anger - but as far as this is concerned I am finding it very difficult indeed to contain a sense of towering, visceral rage at the wanton destruction that this development would inflict on yet another area of sublime beauty in Scotland.

I am with you on the need to mitigate climate change, but really, this has to be one of the clumsiest windfarm proposals I've ever seen, anywhere.

The peat disturbance involved in the construction of turbine foundations, infrastructure roads and pylon footings would release a considerable tonnage of CO2 into the atmosphere. Add to that the CO2 released in the manufacture and transportation of turbine components. A carbon audit would very likely show that the embodied carbon in windfarm development would be greater than the carbon they are supposed to save in their 25 year lifespan.

Automation means that the creation of hundreds of jobs is a complete fallacy.

The madcap subsidies given to already wealthy landowners who fall over themselves to inflict these monuments to landscape destruction and industrialisation on everybody else, means that the power generated will be very expensive indeed.

There are too many serious disadvantages involved in onshore windfarm development for it to be viable (especially on upland peat substrates).

The housing stock of the UK is remarkably power-inefficient. It would be a lot smarter to spend money on addressing this problem, rather than vandalising the rare, charismatic and beautiful landscapes of Scotland.
GForce1 - on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:
Distasteful as it may be Nuclear is the only solution for zero carbon at present.

As for wind turbines being a low carbon source, I just don't think it's true. We in Scotland still burn as much coal as we did before. The Germans are building 10 new coal stations; so much for a green revolution! Even coal stations do not start and stop at very short notice. Never mind the fact it is uneconomic to use them as back up; that's why Longannet may close.

The whole wind industry is a scam to gain political points and transfer money to already rich individuals and the utilities. We are at a position now where utilities are building infrastructure for profit; infrastructure that is unfit for purpose.

Small scale hydro is not much better than wind. A great deal of money has been spent downgrading existing hydro scheme capacities to harvest subsidies. For all the money spent in Scotland capacity is reducing (but subsidy is rising). This shows the mentality of 'green' utilities.

In a years time, if Longannet closes, we will get to see just how worthwhile the £2b spent on wind farms in Scotland really is.

All said, I still do not think Global warming justifies the vandalism that is being done.

My observations as an Engineer in the power industry.
Post edited at 19:13
Only a hill - on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to GForce1:

Well said.
noeldarlow on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to AllanMac:

Trust me, you're not even half as angry as I am when I think about a mass extinction which could have a lasting impact for millions of years.

People often bandy around words like "wanton destruction" but nothing is being destroyed - certainly not our peatlands. Turbines and access roads cover a very small part of the total area of the wind farm. Larger areas of peat can be affected if peatland hydrology is disrupted however damage can be minimised with careful surveys and construction. A certain amount of peat loss is acceptable in any case provided that the development creates a net gain over its lifetime compared to alternative methods of energy production. Healthy peat will in time restore any losses naturally through new growth.

The real danger to UK peatlands, according to a study by Colin Prentice of Imperial College London, is a warming climate which would end primary productivity across most of the UK's peatlands apart from a rump area in the North West of Scotland. With no new growth, they would gradually be eaten away over the centuries by extreme drought events. Wind farms could very well be part of the solution if we want to save our peatlands (and remember this is just one of a series of global impacts threatened by climate change, a relatively minor one at that).

There are a lot of people, including many of our outdoors charities, providing some very bad information and very bad leadership on this subject. Very often they are simply enraged beyond all reason at the idea of spoiling the view and are looking for excuses to justify that. We need to raise the standard of debate a little in order to look clearly at the true impacts of wind farms and the very real dangers of failing to meet the challenge of climate change.
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Only a hill - on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

May I ask where your expertise in this area comes from, as you seem to know more than anyone else on the subject?

By your arguments, we should all stop breathing and eating, "because climate change."
AllanMac - on 27 Feb 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:
You say: "A certain amount of peat loss is acceptable in any case provided that the development creates a net gain over its lifetime compared to alternative methods of energy production. Healthy peat will in time restore any losses naturally through new growth"

Given that "peatland ecosystems are the most efficient carbon sink on the planet" and it takes "thousands of years for peatlands to develop [the] deposits of 1.5 to 2.3 m, which is the average depth of the boreal peatlands" Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat ... How is it that peat loss can in any way be acceptable? Especially given that "a net gain" in wind generation output, as you put it, is very dubious indeed?

Where are your sources for such claims?
Post edited at 23:14
noeldarlow on 01 Mar 2015
In reply to Only a hill:

If we're going to try to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change I think we need a big expansion of renewables capacity, a big increase in energy efficiency, and a modest drop in overall consumption. If you wish to continue eating and breathing that shouldn't be a problem.

However, if we don't act to mitigate global warming quickly and decisively, there will eventually be severe problems with the global food supply. At the very least that will have a significant impact on prices here in the UK and in the worst case make it difficult to import certain kinds of food.

We import a lot of food in the UK.
GForce1 - on 01 Mar 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

Whatever your opinion on global warming building on peat is madness; it will not save co2. It will make £££ for the developers and land owners. This development will destroy approx. 90000m3 of peat directly and probably multiple times this taking into account degradation. How can you possibly support it?

I noticed that you have been posting the same sort of stuff on Chris Townsend's blog and the MCoS website, to the point of being rude.

Do you have any background in either Engineering or Science? This sort of pseudo science is causing more harm to the fight against global warming than benefit.
noeldarlow on 02 Mar 2015
In reply to AllanMac:

OK peat grows at around 1mm per year so 1.5m of bog would take about 1500 years to develop, etc. However, suppose you have a hundred turbines each of which destroy 10,000 cubic metres of peat (800 for the foundation and the rest for access roads etc). That's a million cubic metres of peat in total. An area the size of Stronelairg (40 sq km) would regenerate the same amount of peat in just 25 years.

The precise amount of damage depends on the specifics of a given proposal and this is just a back-of-the-envelope calculation. However, even if peat damage was ten times as bad it would still only take a couple of centuries or so to restore the same total peat volume.
noeldarlow on 02 Mar 2015
In reply to GForce1:

What do you think is pseudo-science and I'll see if I can dig up a reference?

The biodiversity recovery time following an extinction event is from Kirchner & Weil 2000, for example. The threat to US bird species from climate change came from some recently published research by the National Audubon Society. I've already mentioned one study which suggests that UK peatlands are at risk from a warmer climate.

I don't believe that challenging ideas is inherently rude. If we didn't do that we'd still be chasing mammoths with pointed sticks and laughing at the guy who invented that silly, round "wheel" thing.

It is particularly important to challenge ideas when in effect we're on all on a bus about to drive headlong over a cliff. It's not a time to compromise with the truth.
GForce1 - on 02 Mar 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:
I am not referring to the effects of climate change. I am referring to:

- You claim that this scheme built on peat will 'save' co2. I don't think this is true.
- From what I have read you are advocating building hundreds of these schemes in the Highlands, which I think would totally destroy the environment. How can you justify this given the intermittent nature of the power generated? Where do we get power from during high pressure weather? If we use coal it negates any benefit in terms of co2.
- If we generate power multiple times more than we need when the wind is blowing where does it go? Why would England want to buy it when they will have Nuclear base load?

Post edited at 22:04
GForce1 - on 02 Mar 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

Why base regeneration times on an arbitrary area? The time to recover for 3m deep excavations is 3000 years.

You seem to be advocating preserving UK peatlands through the use of a bulldozer.
noeldarlow on 03 Mar 2015
In reply to GForce1:
The risk of CO2 emissions from this particular project (each has to be judged on the specific local conditions) seems to be small. About 90,000m3 of peat will be excavated but the developers believe this can be re-used on site to IMPROVE the local habitat. From their non-technical summary report:

"The mosaic of upland habitats within the survey area is considered to be of regional importance for nature conservation. It contains examples of high quality wet heath habitats and vegetation with sub-montane elements in it, together with other peatland habitats and related wetlands. However the overall condition of the habitat is considered to be poor.

"the draft Peat Management Plan presents the areas where the estimated 8,600 m 3 of upper highly vegetated layer of peat, 80,100 m 3 of the lower highly decomposed peat that will be excavated from the infrastructure footprint will be reused to create new peat habitat and raise groundwater levels. These plans will enable the excavated peat to retain its integrity, retain carbon and allow areas of previous degraded peatland to regenerate and start to produce peat again."

Large-scale wind can be made to work in several ways. For example, if you make the grid large enough, the wind will always be blowing somewhere. Plans exist to create a continental-scale grid encompassing Europe and North Africa which would allow wind alone to satisfy all of our electricity needs. Energy storage is another option where there is a lot of ongoing research. Even if you have to run conventional power stations to make up for the intermittency of wind power, you would still save a huge amount of carbon emissions (although not as much as we need to tackle climate change effectively). We're quite good at predicting the weather in advance so we have plenty of time to bring other options online as we need them (they don't need to be kept running in a state of constant readiness as is often claimed).

If Scotland can regularly generate a surplus of renewable electricity, there will be countries all over Europe queueing up to buy it - including England - in order to meet their CO2 targets. That might take a bit of investment in grid infrastructure but this is the future.
Post edited at 20:50
noeldarlow on 03 Mar 2015
In reply to GForce1:
But there are no plans to destroy peat down to 3m across the full extent of a given wind farm site. Excavations only affect a very small percentage of the total area.

The total volume of peat in a peatland is relevant to it's function as a carbon sink and the total volume lost from excavations would be restored quite quickly even with a growth rate of 1mm per year.

At Caplich, they think they can re-use excavated peat and so preserve its captured carbon.

Of course excavations and access roads etc can affect the habitat in other ways in addition to CO2 emissions. Proposals have to go into considerable detail about environmental impacts. You can get a copy of the Caplich non-technical summary here: http://www.muirhallenergy.co.uk/caplich.html
Post edited at 21:01
Simon Caldwell - on 07 Mar 2015
In reply to noeldarlow:

You seem to have ignored those who ask where your expertise comes from? Which suggests that either (a) you don't have any, or (b) you're connected with the wind industry in some way.
noeldarlow on 07 Mar 2015
In reply to Simon Caldwell:

Or possibly because it's kind of rude to accuse someone of peddling pseudo-science - especially when the accuser isn't able to present any kind of technical argument to back up the accusation. If they had that would be OK because then we'd be arguing about something of substance rather than just trading insults.

And no I'm not connected to the wind industry in any way. I'm a keen mountaineer and I'm also very keen to conserve the physical environment of Scotland and indeed the globe as best we can given the threats posed by climate change. I'm much more concerned with tangible, physical impacts than I am with an aesthetic sense of spoiled views.

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