Renewable energy (Scotland)

Scotland’s natural beauty is a key part of our national identity and fundamentally important for tourism and outdoor recreation.

We support the Scottish Government’s efforts to address climate change through a transition to low carbon, renewable forms of energy, but want to ensure any impact upon special landscapes is minimised.

Introduction
In 2019 the First Minister declared that Scotland needed to act in order to address the climate emergency.  The transition to low carbon forms of electricity generation is a key part of that process, with a statutory target to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

The Scottish Government aims to generate 50% of Scotland’s overall energy consumption through renewables by 2030, with the whole energy system almost completely decarbonised by 2050.  This includes transitioning our transport and heating systems to be powered by electricity.

There has been a huge expansion of large scale onshore wind development over recent years, along with the establishment of a number of offshore windfarms. However, given the scale of the government’s ambitions, Scotland’s installed capacity will need to increase. 

It is likely that there will be more onshore windfarm applications over the next few years and some existing windfarms will be subject to ‘repowering’ applications when they come to the end of their initial consented phase.

Repowering can result in fewer, taller turbines on the same site but newer turbines can reach beyond 150m so this would require them to have aviation lights, leading to the potential for light pollution in wild areas.

In seeking a balance between landscape quality and renewable energy development, it is important to avoid badly-sited windfarms or hydro energy schemes. Scotland’s natural heritage and wild landscapes are famous throughout the world. 

They inspire and refresh us, are a magnificent setting for outdoor recreation and are the main reason why people visit Scotland. 

A measure of protection for our most treasured landscapes has been established through planning policy with large wind farms excluded from National Parks or National Scenic Areas and the adoption of a map of core areas of wild land where there is a presumption against large scale developments.

A further aspect of this issue is that much of Scotland’s wild areas contain peatlands, recognised as a major carbon sink.  Restoration of damaged peatlands is now a government priority.  Therefore, careful use of techniques for minimising peat disturbance and carbon loss are required if new windfarms are to be consented in these areas.

Our position 
It is part of the Ramblers' charitable objectives to protect the outdoor environment. We recognise the wider public interest in ensuring that nature and heritage should be cared for and respected.

We support the need to make massive changes in lifestyles and energy use to help minimise the effects of human-induced climate change.

The development of renewable energy sources, greater efficiencies in energy use and energy conservation should be key aspects of current and future policy. At a GB level, Ramblers has joined the Community Energy Coalition, supporting small scale energy projects.

However, some landscapes are more sensitive to change than others. Developing extensive wind farms and accompanying vehicular tracks and pylon lines across large tracts of the country has a significant impact, particularly in areas which are important for outdoor recreation or where there are valuable peatlands.

We also continue to have concerns over the planning and restoration standards for some smaller scale hydro schemes.

This risks causing long-term damage to the environment and the landscape.

After the government adopted SNH’s map of core wild land areas into planning policy in 2014 we objected to several new windfarm applications located within wild land areas to test this policy.   

We are happy to support our members and groups in making comments on applications for renewables developments in their areas.

Government action
Further development of onshore wind energy should take place within a robust planning framework, with the locations for developments guided by strategy and the use of landscape capacity studies.

We also support government efforts to reduce our energy consumption while supporting ways of generating electricity that minimise adverse environmental impacts.

Background 
Landscape and outdoor recreation interests are essential considerations when striking a balance between conserving the natural and cultural heritage, and using it as an economic resource.

Activities like walking and wildlife watching all depend on high quality scenery, and a 2010 report by Scottish Natural Heritage estimated that nature based tourism is worth £1.4bn each year to the Scottish economy, supporting 39,000 jobs.

We believe careful consideration needs given to the potential impacts on the tourism industry as a result of this large scale onshore wind development. 

Modern wind turbines are too large to be able to fit comfortably into many landscapes, visually dominating surrounding views. In addition, upland habitats are often sensitive to change and slow to recover, displaying a lasting legacy of visual scars, while the presence of heavy engineering projects within upland landscapes is often inappropriate.

Page last updated May 2020