A report for Scottish Natural Heritage on 20 wind farm sites, which included Little Raith Wind Farm, and hydro-electric sites identifies extensive bad practice, environmental degradation and poor monitoring and enforcement by local authorities.
Linda Holt, spokesperson for national alliance Scotland Against Spin which campaigns for the reform of Scottish wind energy policy welcomed the report, but called it “the tip of the iceberg“. She said:
“It’s common knowledge that wind developers can and do get away with flouting planning conditions, leaving wind farm sites environmentally and ecologically degraded. Our members have wept at the irony of this so-called green technology ravaging hillsides and moors.”
The report had discovered in their main findings:
- There are poor acceptable standards of quality in which developments are being left following construction work.
- Good practice construction improvements required for: borrow pit reinstatement, cut batters, access tracks, and drainage and sediment management.
- Habitat Management Plans (HMP), Environmental Management Plans (EMP), construction and restoration improvements are required regarding: inappropriate use of peat, grazing pressures, turf reinstatement, use of rocky sediment, acceptable amount of ground disturbance, compliance with conditions and increased detail in reinstatement outcomes and final site condition.
Ms Holt also questioned why SNH had not publicised the report or why the issue had been left to a graduate student project to address. She added:
“The Scottish Government has willfully shut its eyes to the environmental costs of building gigantic wind turbines and its associated infrastructure. Without sufficient resources or political support, SNH has had little choice but to collude in what will seem to many people a cover-up.”
“Scottish wind energy policy has not been plan-led, but developer-led. The largely foreign wind industry is only interested in claiming the huge subsidies on offer, and as with open-cast mining, we will be left with a legacy of environmental damage, which we may never be able to put right.”
The report highlighted that at Little Raith;
- Poorly cut batters were observed along access tracks in select locations. Overall, the site was developed on a relatively flat topography of agricultural land requiring few cut batters.
- Areas with intensive cattle grazing would benefit from a short respite, allowing vegetation to fully re-establish, otherwise areas remain wet and disturbed / poached with inconsistent vegetation cover.
The report further details a list of recommendations to improve good practice guidance and advice;
During these site visits it had occurred that perhaps the developers or contractors do not understand what the end result should be, or the quality that should be achieved. To turn it on its head, perhaps the council or SNH should ask the developer to prove to us they understand the quality that must be met by demonstrating, through examples, what they believe to be acceptable. If they do not achieve this, then miscommunication is not the limitation. The developer could relay this understanding to the contractors involved. The onus is on the developer to choose a competent contracting party and see they are compliant.
If contractors do not meet the specified standard of quality, as checked by the council or a third party, the developer should not be allowed to commission their scheme, or a probationary time frame be placed, at which point the end result is approved. The developers should be putting pressure on the contractors to deliver a high quality of construction and remediation with the utmost care. If not, the council should deem it unsuitable and require the developer to pursue further remediation.
There is potential for the council to collect fees for monitoring secured through an additional payment included within the initial application fee, justified as a monitoring fee. There is also potential for ECoWs to be employed by the council and report directly to the council. The fees for this would also be included within the application fee. This would allow the council direct knowledge and influence of the site condition and could standardize the quality expected. This would also remove the potential conflict of interest between ECoWs and developers. It is clear that more enforcement would be beneficial and requires developers and contractors to tailor their work to achieve the standard of care required of renewable energy development.
Ms Holt added: “The report shows bad practice by the wind industry not only destroys animal and plant life, but also constitutes a serious public health risk. Many wind farms are built on water catchment areas, and careless construction can lead to contamination of public and private water supplies.”
“We call on the Energy and Environment Ministers to act urgently to prevent further unnecessary destruction. Guidance and warm words about good practice plainly don’t work. Wind developers need to know operations will be shut down until proper compensation is paid if they ignore planning conditions.”