My post on the Eishken Windfarm elicited a discussion on the merits of wind energy, particularly large-scale windfarms in Lewis. The outcome was a complete disagreement.
I think it won't do any harm to post my take on the deployment of sources of renewable energy in the Western Isles. Purely personal, not asking anyone to agree or disagree.
Last night, I watched an episode of the Coast programme, as broadcast on BBC in 2006. At the time, the North Lewis Windfarm was still in the planning stages. It served however as a timely reminder of what could have been between Port of Ness and Stornoway (via Bragar). And what could yet be on the Eishken hills. In this case, 33 turbines, each standing 450 feet tall. With associated road and electricity infrastructure. It should also be born in mind that Eishken once was the home of more than 30 villages and hamlets, strung along the shores of Loch Seaforth and west round to Loch Shell and Lemreway. These were cleared in the 1820s to make way for sheep, and there is no permanent habitation now. Rather than opening up the area for limited redevelopment, it is now going to be turned into an industrial wasteland.
The argument of the impact on the landscape is one that is being wielded right across Scotland. Homes built in the proximity of some windfarms, e.g. Ayrshire, have seen their value plummet. The noise impact is higher than some people would have us believe.
Wind energy also carries the disadvantage of being inconsistent. The Isle of Lewis has an average windspeed of 16 knots, 18 mph (force 5 on the Beaufort scale). We have a gale every week (again, on average), and flat calm on a regular basis as well. In other words, the output from a wind turbine is always variable. It cannot be wholly relied on, as the turbines may need to be stopped for high wind and do not operate without wind. Point I am making is that you need other sources of energy to supplement the output from wind turbines.
On a national scale, this has led to the suggestion we build more nuclear powerstations. However, as long as the issue of nuclear waste has not been resolved, I (personally) do not think it is wise to build new nuclear powerstations. At this time.
So what else have we got? Wind energy does have a role to play, but the large scale projects have too large an environmental impact - on-shore. Off-shore windfarms have far less of an impact (that I am aware of).
Wavepower, the Pelamis seasnake, has been developed, trialled and even built in Scotland - for use in Portugal. So why not deploy it off the coast of Scotland? The ocean is never still, swells will always come to our western shores. The Portuguese are certainly benefiting by it, and proposal were recently mooted for a similar project off Great Bernera.
Tidal power will be put to use at Shader over the next few years, and has been supplying Islay with power for nearly two decades now.
Solar power? Yes, even Scotland has daylight, and the sun shines more often than you would perhaps give it credit for. On a small scale, solar power is already being used in streetlamps in the Lochs area of Lewis. A hundred miles south of here, in the Isle of Eigg, solar power also contributes to the energy requirements of its 86-strong population.
The above three sources all have as an advantage over large-scale windfarms that their environmental impact is a lot less. I do realise that the above mentioned sources of renewable energy may not suffice to meet the energy requirements for the whole of Scotland. However, for the small scale needs of the Western Isles, they most certainly can. If the political will is there, a profusion of schemes across Scotland could certainly make an impact nationwide.