Unspoilt Hebrides ‘under threat from giant windfarm’

A mock-up of the proposed windfarm off Tiree by No Tiree Array group
A mock-up of the proposed windfarm off Tiree by No Tiree Array group

Tiree is known for its surfing beaches and its sunlight but it is the abundance of another natural resource around this tiny Hebridean isle – the wind – that has triggered such a major battle between residents and developers that it could derail at least part of the Scottish Government’s renewable energy plans.

ScottishPower Renewables wants to build an offshore windfarm just off the southwest coast of Tiree. The energy company insists that the Argyll Array, as it is known, is vital if Scotland is to meet its ambitious renewable energy targets.

However, plans for the Argyll Array have prompted a furious backlash from Tiree residents for two simple reasons: it is going to be really, really big and extremely close to shore, so close and so big, in fact, that campaigners believe it will overshadow everything on one whole side of the island.

If given the go-ahead, this proposal could see the erection of 180 turbines, each one 600-ft tall – the size of the Gherkin building in London. The turbines might end up being smaller that that, but if they are smaller then there will have to be many more them, perhaps as many as 500 of them.

The development would start just three miles from the Tiree coast and cover an area of almost 140 square miles. Given that Tiree is just 40 square miles in size, it is easy to why many residents are so concerned about the effect that this project will have on their community.

Members of the action group which has been created to fight the plans, No Tiree Array, insist they are not against windfarms. Indeed, they say they would welcome proposals to site the wind turbines 22 miles from shore.

They just don’t want them so close that they affect every view, every beach, the surfing, the wind-surfing and the fishing on one side of the island.

At the moment, the Argyll Array is part of the Scottish Government’s draft plan for offshore developments which ministers want to get through parliament before Holyrood rises for the election campaign at the end of March.

The minister pushing it through is Jim Mather, the energy minister, but also the SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, the area affected by the proposed development.

No Tiree Array have already lodged a formal complaint with Mr Mather, complaining about the way the consultation over the draft plan was carried out and raising questions about his dual role: the MSP for area and the minister responsible for the draft plan.

This is a big, big issue for Tiree and, indeed, for Argyll and the Hebrides but it neatly encapsulates some of the dilemmas posed by the push for renewables.

If half our energy is to come from renewable sources by 2020, then the windfarms have to go somewhere. Also, some have to be very, very big indeed, with massive turbines generating significant amounts of energy.

The area around Tiree is windy. It is known for its wind and there are not nearly as many people there to be affected by a windfarm as there are say, in the Central Belt.

But Tiree is also beautiful, mostly unspoilt and an archetype of the sort of Hebrides which visitors want to see. It is also home to 800 residents and another 3,000 semi-permanent visitors who come every summer.

ScottishPower Renewables insists that the water is too deep to site turbines 22 miles offshore. The turbines have to be in close to make the operation work but many residents feel their community, their culture, their whole way of life will be destroyed if the project is given the go-ahead.

Dr Alison Kennedy, spokeswoman for No Tiree Array, said she believed this was a classic case of a small community being trampled over by big companies, by government and, ultimately, by a huge windfarm.

She told the Times she had not spoken to a single islander who supported the plans.

Dr Kennedy said: “The seascape from the south of Tiree is going to become one giant fleet of enormous turbines. Tiree is a beautiful little island with some of the best beaches in the world but the whole atmosphere, the whole shape of the island is going to change. It is going to be industrialised.

“These proposals are way out of proportion for the island itself and they are going to change the whole way of life for this tiny island with 800 souls. The community will be destroyed, tourism will be destroyed. I cannot understand why Alex Salmond wants to destroy the Western Isles, one of the world’s most beautiful areas.”

The campaigners claim they were not allowed to raise objections to the Argyll Array itself during the consultation process, just the general draft plan for the whole of Scotland.

But they believe that they should be able to object at this stage because, if they do not succeed in stopping the Argyll Array now, they are likely to lose the argument in principle and will not be able to defeat it at a later stage.

“The consultation process has been a complete farce,” Dr Kennedy said.

And she added: “I know we need energy and windfarms but I cannot see the logic of this. You have to place windfarms where you don’t destroy communities and this monstrous development will destroy this tiny island community.”

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Government defended the administration’s approach to offshore wind energy. “Scotland has massive renewable energy resources and is at the forefront of advances in offshore wind energy generation. The Scottish Government welcomes developments in the sector and with as much as a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind energy potential Scotland is well placed to become the continent’s green energy powerhouse. “

And Simon McMillan for ScottishPower Renewables, which is planning to develop the Argyll Array, said the water was too deep for the turbines to be sited at least 35km from the shore. He said they had to be within 22km of the shore to stay within Scottish waters and he stressed that the company had given an assurance they wouldn’t come within 5km of land.

He said: “This is a very important project. This is a key part in meeting our carbon-reduction targets and, as an offshore development, this is an excellent location.”

And Mr McMillan added: “We have a very good track record of working with communities and we will keep the community constantly in touch with the project as it develops.”

Members of the No Tiree Array group have vowed to keep fighting the development. They have also produced some startling, professionally designed images showing how close the turbines will be to shore and how, they believe, they will dominate the island. They are determined to win, believing the fate of their island is at stake if they lose.

  • Kenny Duarte

    For God sake, build them 22 miles out, the people are happy with 22 miles out. Either that or go away you’re not wanted any closer.

    • Nìall Beag

      As the article says, 22 miles out isn’t practical. While places like Denmark and the southeast of England are essentially the raised edges of mudflats and shingle beds that continue out to see for miles, the Hebrides are the peaks of a submerged mountain range on the Highland geological plate, and the plunging glens of the Highlands are echoed in the trenches in the Hebridean Sea that allow the full ferocity of Atlantic storms into the Minch. If you use the satellite view on Google Maps, you’ll see that the rise that Coll and Tiree sit on stretches a mere 10 miles northwest of both islands and continues for about 20 miles southwest of Tiree before shelving sharply.

      It’s this relatively small plateau that they want to use as a site for the turbines.

      Also, why does the article keep talking about 22 miles when the quoted source is talking about 22km?

      PS. Dr Kennedy might be interested to know that Tiree is not one of the Western Isles.

      • Kenny Duarte

        Thank you for noting those things I missed, it certainly made me think and go in search for wind turbines which might suit. It turns out that the distances the people of Tiree are looking at are practical, and I have a number of links I hope you will be interested in. You might also be interested in knowing that they are cheaper to put in place too.
        http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2010/16/deep-water-turbines.cfm
        http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/0225/062.html
        http://thefutureofthings.com/pod/1176/deep-water-offshore-wind-turbine.html
        http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/26964/

      • Tiree Resident.

        Hi,

        Firstly I do not wish to get into the extensive arguments about the pros and cons of wind energy…I have my own personal views on this matter. And wish to stay firmly fixed on Tiree, the project and Tiree’s place in the strategic debate.

        I would like to correct a few items…firstly 50km out from Tiree in the same direction are the Stanton Banks…these are a similar size to the Skerryvore Reef area…so the comment from Simon MacMillian is totally incorrect. This is only round one of developments that will have a second and a third stage.

        Nothing is mentioned about the cumulative affect of actually filling the Tiree waters with Turbines. The Scottish government is playing catch up…Crown Estates decided on this existing location and 8 other leases. Yet Stanton banks has been mentioned as a ‘possible’ in Round 2 or 3. The Scottish Government should have fought to devolve the Crown estates interests in Scottish territorial waters…they didn’t and now we are reaping the whirlwind.

        Technology does exist to put these turbines off-shore…they are in-shore to Tiree…4.7 km to be exact…the technology is out there now, Portugal, Norway, Denmark. Scottish Power Renewables is a Spanish owned company Iberdrola…they have their own R & D into ‘OFFSHORE’ out of view windfarms.

        SCottish National Heritage state that in a visual survey anything past 35km is not visible…that is the base line we work from…

        The Array does not simply involve aesthetics it also involves a population increase of as many as 300 people, not construction staff but qualified O & M..note this recent comment at a meeting with SPR

        ‘SPR stressed that although their project might have considerable impact on Tiree across many vectors, it is not SPR’s role to apply for permission and then go and build things like new housing, upgraded water and sewerage systems, or general road upgrades’. So we are not just talking about the Array, we are talking about cultural genocide…for the sake of big money, big companies, big politics and it’s clash with a small remote and unique Island culture.
        The Hebrides was treated in such an underhanded way once before…during the clearances, History is a great teacher.

        I could go on but the actual last paragraph focuses on the bigger picture.

        Regards

        Tirisdeach

  • weewilliebee

    Wind farms have been monitored for over a year and the output turns out to be 22% of what it would be if the wind blew constantly over the period. The wind industry however pretends and publishes a figure of 30%, a substantial exaggeration to put it mildly.
    Because of the fact that we demand a constant supply of electricity at all times power stations have to be kept on standby when the wind drops. The wind lobby claims that the wind is always blowing somewhere, another myth which is blown apart(pun intended) by the evidence. This standby plant produces carbon dioxide but without producing electricity so reduces the effectiveness of the wind turbines in cutting emissions. It is also much more expensive than conventional thermal sources of energy.
    Here however is the crunch statistic. Scotland’s much vaunted targets for renewable energy boasted as being world beating do not matter one whit in combating climate change.
    The reason being that the total of all Scotland’s emissions come to a piddling 0.2% of the world’s total emissions. Yes 0.2%! Here we are dealing with electricity generation which is one third of the 0.2% which is 0.07% of carbon dioxide.
    So all this wind energy scam is costing us millions and is doing absolutely nothing for the planet we live on.
    To those who reply and they will “We must make an example.” I say piffle. No one is looking at Scotland and saying we must follow them.
    We are just mugs, paying through the nose to the wind farm lobby so they can make their millions at our expense and it is time that the politicians realised this and put the interests of their constituents first.
    Failure to do so will result in the voters putting them out of office and electing those who will stop making the public pay for inflated energy costs with absolutely no offsetting advantage.
    My sympathies go with the residents of Tiree who are not likely to be voting for another term of the SNP.

    • john__

      Absolute rubbish Weewilliebee.

      First of all, if you read the literature, it is ~25% for onshore windfarms, and ~28% for offshore windfarms (in the UK). Germany is significantly worse, but then it doesn’t have the wind that we have. I suspect that you are using their figures, and are hence comparing apples with oranges.

      Second, Wind advocates never argue for wind alone, that is a myth put about by the nuclear industry. What is needed is a balance of production and storage. At the moment we have pump storage, but there are serious amounts of research going into electrolysis of hydrogen as a storage media. You seem to be suggesting that because the solution isn’t simple, that we should keep on doing what we’ve done previously. What part of “it’s going to run out” don’t you understand?

      Thirdly there are more renewables than just wind. try tidal and wave, also hydro and solar. Tiree is the sunniest part of the UK fancy putting a solar farm there? Some of these other renewable resources can be used as backup. Wind resource can be predicted accurately a day in advance, so there should be able to come up with a energy grid that can carry electricity from areas of production at any given time to areas of demand.

      fourth, we are spending money on all renewables. We are not getting money back from our investment in wind because we (the UK) were too late in developing the technology. The profits in the wind industry are going to the countries that got in there early and developed the technology (Denmark ,Germany and Spain). If we get in early with wave and tidal, there is hope that there will be a return on our investment (as long as we continue to support it).

      fifth, if you take your argument to its logical extreme noone should do anything to improve society, as we are all too insignificant in ourselves. The affect that we will have is tiny, so we should each let the world fall into rack and ruin. Two sayings come to mind: “Even the longest journey starts with a single step”, and “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. The second is an early greenpeace slogan I believe. Have you ever heard the word “responsibility”? You seem to be abrogating yours.

      What do you have as a solution to the energy crisis and green house gases? You seem to be full of negatives. Would you rather a coal fired power station on Tiree? Or do you believe that we should all go back to the dark ages and ride horses and live in tents?

      John

      • Tiree Resident.

        There is a time and place for every thing, and it has to be in proportion and with due deference to the environment… to rush wind renewables through without due care to the environment we are ‘supposed’ to be protecting and, without full community involvement at every level we are destroying what we initially set out to do..

        The technology exists to place wind power stations offshore where the impact on local communities is mitigated.

        The current rush as you so rightly state is t>he profits in the wind industry are going to the countries that got in there early and developed the technology (Denmark ,Germany and Spain).There is more to life than profit and loss…

        I would say it is a safe assumption that the Argyll aka Tiree Array is profit and politically driven, not some noble quest to reduce CO2 damage.

        Regards from Tiree.

        As for solar energy on Tiree why not put that offshore as well…offshore as in over the horizon.

        • weewilliebee

          To Tiree Resident I would point out that the technology exists to do away with wind altogether. It happens to be a particularly poor way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions partly on cost grounds and also because of the intermittent energy output which requires reliable thermal or other back up.
          Your are perfectly correct in assuming the Tiree Array is politically and profit driven.
          No wind farm would exist without the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) subsidy. Every person using electricity pays this in their electricity bills and it all goes to profits of the wind industry.
          No wonder they keep pushing this global warming – oops sorry – now its climate change fear.

        • John__

          Tiree resident, The rush is not for the windfarm profits. these all go to the westminster government or the crown estates thanks to our wonderful devolution settlement. I suspect that the rush is because we are going to run out of choices soon. We need new generation to keep the lights on.

          My personal preference would be to have the M8 and M74 corridors filled with turbines. To some extent that is happening (eg whitelee). However I find it strange that for at least a generation, the populations of the highlands and Islands have been bemoaning the lack of opportunities for real jobs, not just running B+B’s, yet when the opportunity comes to create 300 high quality jobs, they are not wanted.

          There is no doubt that the reliability if wind energy is improved if it is in geographically disperse locations. So I would say that the siting of an array off Tiree is more likely to be strategic in terms of both jobs and energy security rather than just “political” (whatever that means).

          Do you not think that this is a possibility? Or would you prefer to think that the world is against you?

          John

          ps. Solar arrays would not cope well with the waves and salt spray. Were you may have a point is that wave machines could be sited off Tiree, but they have not been fully developed yet, and may affect Tiree’s surf.

          • Nìall Beag

            Jobs are not all created equal. Specialist jobs require specialists, and the locals are therefore not likely to get them.

            300 incomers is a lot on an island of 800. It would do a hell of a lot of damage to the remaining Gaelic on the island, certainly.

            Solar arrays may not cope well with surf, but what if there were mounted really high — like at the top of a wind turbine…?

      • weewilliebee

        John_says;
        You are clearly one of the “environmentalists” whose energy philosophy may be summarised as ABN. In other words Anything But Nuclear. Nowhere have I mentioned nuclear but you seem to have a hang up about it.
        I would be wasting my time answering all the points you make an do not intend to try.
        You have not answered the point I made that there is no way the whole of Scotland can affect the climate.
        What part of it did you not understand?

        • John__

          Yes, I work in renewables, but I am trained as a physicist, So I approach my treehugging in a scientifically rigerous manner.

          I have not mentionned nuclear generation either (I did mention the nuclear lobby). Why do you bring it up? As it happens many of my family members work(ed) in the nuclear industry, indeed I would not be here if my parents had not met while working in Dounreay.

          Indeed if you look at my history on the BWB blog, then you’ll see some past arguments that I have made in favour of nuclear. However Scotland does not need it now, and noone has explained to me how to get rid of nuclear waste. Why create waste when we don’t need to?

          Also I did answer your point several times (maybe I can make it clearer by saying “every little bit helps”) So over to you I’m afraid.

          John

  • weewilliebee

    To John dash,
    Aha so you work in renewables do you? Well as your living is threatened that explains a lot. You state no one has explained to you how to get “rid of nuclear waste” and I am not about to tell you for it is up to you to find out.
    A physicist eh? I must be careful with dealing with you being so clever and all. Were you aware that nuclear generation has been running for 50 years and produces 0.1% of the UK’s toxic waste? I thought not! There is a lot of toxic waste around and being handled routinely. No one is making a fuss about it except for nuclear. Strange!
    Dealing with your final point, your “every little helps,” is pretty feeble. You say this when the whole of electricity production in the UK currently puts out a miserable 0.07% of the world’s carbon dioxide and you believe this has a significant effect on the world’s climate. You are seriously maintaining this as a physicist who is supposedly expert in the laws of physics? You think this is a matter of significance requiring such drastic action as to trash our scenery, ruin our tourist industry, and increase our electricity costs by industrialising the countryside for an effect less than 0.07%?
    In the words of John McEnroe, “You can not be serious!”

    • john__

      weewilliebee

      To suggest that nuclear waste is the same as toxic waste is dishonest. It follows your standard pattern in this argument of taking statistics and facts, then distorting them to suit your own argument.

      What precisely is feeble about suggesting that we do as much as we can? Of course, to take Scotland in isolation, we will not change the world. But we are not in isolation, we are part of a global system. The fact that you choose to ignore this when a solution is suggested but then use it to justify inaction speaks of the fallacy of your own argument. If there is one thing that you are taught in physics is that nothing happens in isolation.

      John

      • weewilliebee

        Dear John Dash,
        Can I then summarise your attitude as ” Do not confuse me with the facts as my mind is made up?”
        It is the undisputed fact that the UK is not in isolation that we are unable to make any detectable difference to the climate of the world.
        Let me know what part of that you cannot comprehend as a physicist . Is it really true as some say that an physicist is an engineer with his brains bashed out? I am beginning to think so.
        You accuse me of using facts and statistics and distorting them to suit my own argument. Come on now and spell out the distortions please and in this way you can effectively discredit me.
        On the contrary I use the facts to make up my mind and not the other way round.
        Cheers.

        • john__

          OK I’ll rise to your bait, but only to repeat what I have already said.

          22% average efficiency for windfarms – Wrong for the UK (and even more wrong for offshore). (source for this is BWEA (google: capacity factor UK wind farm), which gives UK capacity factor for onshore of 28.2% in 2005 (I mis-remembered that as the offshore one). Just for your education, it also gives capacity factors for other european countries at the same time:
          Spain 24.6%
          Denmark 24%
          Germany 16%
          Sweden 19%

          I am guessing that the figure that you quoted is the average for the whole world, or just europe. That figure is irrelevant to the west of Scotland which has some of the best wind resource in the world. Anyone who bothers to learn a little about wind knows that. In the UK, capacity factors can reach up to 55% (in the shetlands)

          Nuclear waste toxic waste, so don’t use toxic waste statistics, or liken the two. Toxic waste can be destroyed (unless it is heavy metal waste), nuclear waste can’t, as no matter what you do to it, it remains active for the duration. (this is basic higher chemistry if you’re interested in a source)

          On these two subjects I know what I am talking about, and you are wrong on both. the only other statistic that you have quoted (0.7% of world’s CO2 produced in Scotland) Could be correct (it sounds plausible given that we have less than 0.1% of the world’s population)) but is totally irrelevant to this argument. This argument is about what Scotland can do, not Scotland’s place in the world.

          You are the one who seems to have a limited grasp of the facts. I can assure you that my mind is open, and I have examined the facts with an open mind. You resorting to petty insults certainly is not the way to win the argument. All that does is show that you have nothing to offer to the debate apart from made up statistics, pseudo science and a lot of hot air.

          John

          • john__

            that should read Nuclear waste is not equal to toxic waste in the 4th paragraph.

            John

          • weewilliebee

            Well John Dash, I accept your correction, not that it matters, for though they are not the same they are both toxic and will kill you if you do not take appropriate measures. Death is death and the corpse cares little after the event.
            I do observe you have not yet challenged my figures and exposed what you call my “distortions.” You will not find any for I take care.
            First get the facts, then get cracking with your opinions by all means, having been informed. This is good advice you should follow in your career as a physicist.

          • john__

            What art of “Wrong for the UK ” and ” Nuclear waste is not equal to toxic waste” and “so don’t use toxic waste statistics, or liken the two” don’t you understand?

            It is easy to say “you have not yet challenged my figures”, however I would humbly suggest to you that telling you that you’re “wrong” is a fairly fundamental challange to your figures, so maybe you would like to reassess that statement you made.

            As for the nuclear waste issue, you appear to be happy with people dieing from it (or at the very least, a bit blase about it). I’m guessing that this is in the small print of your argument against wind farms. You also seem to totally miss the significance of your phrase “appropriate measures”. I would suggest to you that that is the crux of the difference between “toxic” and “nuclear”.

            John

          • weewilliebee

            This is getting tedious John Dash, especially as it seems only you and I seem to be interested. Since you consider waste to be some problem I will briefly deal with it.
            You accept my figure that it is 0.1% of the UK’s toxic waste perhaps? Then we can disagree on the significance. I do not think it is an issue and you do. Fair enough. What is done with it is to bury it in controlled engineered stores. Sweden has such a store at Forsmark. No doubt you imagine waste to occupy massive amounts. I can give chapter and verse on this but it is lengthy. I assume possibly incorrectly that you have concerns about “high level radioactive waste.” It is about 4% by volume of the total waste though it is very highly radioactive as the name implies. Its final destination is cast in glass blocks and storage in the facility mentioned above.
            The new generation of reactors now being built will produce only about 10% of that from the current gas cooled reactors, and the entire UK industry each year produces only enough highly active waste to fill a London taxi. The source is “The Supporters of Nuclear Energy,” an organisation supported by those who support nuclear energy. Most of the members are private individuals. I do admit it is biased but you are free to challenge what they publish.

            Your second point is your continued claim that wind has a load factor of 30% and you quote the Wind Energy Association. This is not a scientific body but a pressure group supported by the firms making profits from the wind energy business. I know not where their figure of 30% load factor comes from but it is incorrect and exaggerated. You have produced other country’s figures with an average of around 20% and a peak value of 24.6% and I accept that.
            The figures for wind I quote come from the actual output from the metered wind farms on the neta website. The figures have been extracted from this published data and come to 22%. The wind farms are all in the UK. The neta data provides the truth and the Wind Energy Association figures are sheer propaganda.
            As a physicist you have failed at the first hurdle.
            First get the facts!

          • john__

            OK briefly: If you check the BWEA figures, you will see that they come from the DTI.

            Nothing you have said about dealing with nuclear waste is new to me, in fact it is my whole argument. You seem to miss the whole point of nuclear waste: you have to store it. You can’t get rid of it. It will be active for anything between years and millions of years. Can you say that a storage facility will stay intact (politically safe?) for that long. Why leave a potentially lethal legacy to the next thousand generations when we don’t have to? I am in favour of doing research to examine possibilities, but until we can do better than leaving it in ceramic blocks, I suggest that we should not be using it on a large scale. Particularly when there are alternatives.

            Your figure of 0.1% of toxic waste is completely irrelevant.

            John

          • weewilliebee

            Hi John Dash,
            Nothing you have said about dealing with nuclear waste is new to me.
            I said on the 24th January “I would be wasting my time answering all the points you make” I did make the error of trying.
            The DTI figures are wrong. They differ from the actual performance as reported. Believe your delusions if it makes you happy.

          • Nìall Beag

            Death is death, but most toxic waste only kills for a few years. Nuclear waste kills for a lot longer, not to mention the transmissible genetic defects it can cause. Most mutagenic toxins affect living organisms on a physiological level only — deformities caused by them are not usually carried in the DNA.

  • john__

    Weewilliebee

    So the Department of Trade and Industry figures that you think agree with you (but which actually don’t) are correct, but those that you think disagree with you are wrong. That’s a solid argument you have there.

    You are right, this is a waste of time. You were the one that started this by quoting spurious figures. I have shown sources that show these figures to be wrong. You have not even attempted a logical argument.

    Cheerio, and have a good life,

    John

  • Jerusalem Dundee Artichokes

    Wind is not an answer to any energy problems. The quicker we realise this the quicker we can start the building of 21st century nuclear power stations. We can then also pump money into research into things like Thorium. As it stands, the SNP, in particular, will be mocked come the blackouts/ widespread fuel poverty/ extortionate energy prices/ ruined tourist industry… the list goes on. They should admit they were wrong; that they went on a modern day Darien scheme and came back with nada.