Friday, 11 September 2009

Renewable energy

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.


  1. Does the economic and social regeneration of the islands really fall by the wayside to preserve people's scenic views and house prices?

    The island is in terminal decline, well on it's way to becoming a retirement village for those lucky few that can afford it. Families who have survived even the attentions of the Mathesons and the Soapmen may not survive the coming century. Population has dropped 50% this century and is predicted to fall by 15% in the next 25 years. The heart of the community, the young, will fall by 31%. A people is being lost here.

    People idly trot out tourism and ecology as the casualties of this so called industrial sabotage when in reality the former provides but a fraction of the revenue of successful wind development and in no way provides the skilled jobs that are essential to keep young people on the island and families being raised for another generation. The latter is a straw man, compare the damage that global warming is doing to the rest of this planet. A few displaced Divers and Dunlins are nothing.

    Once again I reiterate that wave power is decades away from commercial viability, indeed it may not be viable at all. The designs are still being tested and wear and damage of the current designs may prove entirely cost prohibitive. Even if Siader proves successful its MW output, even with other developments will be low and a far cry for that of wind turbines.

    Fact of the matter is that wind power is and may well be the last chance for the island's native people. Suddenly we find ourselves in the wholly enviable situation of being able to exploit, sell and export a product that we are given for free and at a time that the world needs it most.

    Industrial wasteland? I can see the Whitelees farm from my window. Beautiful it is too. There is a visitor center there taking tourists by the busload and holding education visits for West of Scotland schoolkids. There is also 80Km of scenic new walking routes and bike tracks throughout it's 140 turbine site. The moor has been opened up for ecological enjoyment.

    This is not about selfishly powering the islands self sufficiently, this is about creating a pioneering island economy based on energy export, R&D, manufacturing and skilled labour. We should be grasping it with both hands and those who oppose these possibilites for the sake of their idea of rural idyll should be ashamed.

  2. Near my place in France the turbines are not built near homes. Between Narbonne and Toulouse 200kms they are beside the motorway---and guess what not a home in sight! Just outside Nimes (the nearest turbines to my house,there are loads of sites where the "Bonelli eagles"nest---they are a protected species and there have been up till now,no reports of them or there young being decaptated etc by the turbines.For the moment we don't have much choice--either a combination of wind/solar power, (2) nice clean nuclear power-on the outside as the nuclear waste gets buried deep underground and is killer the earth,or(3)back to coal fired power stations belching smoke all over the countryside,towns etc---maybe it would be better,then we can open up the coal mines again some may say,or more than likley import coal from germany or poland:If we all want to continue to have electricity we must realise that however it is produced it comes at a price and I don't mean just what we pay in bills:
    Think about it;

  3. @Croft: "wind power is and may well be the last chance for the island’s native people. Suddenly we find ourselves in the wholly enviable situation of being able to exploit, sell and export a product that we are given for free and at a time that the world needs it most"

    I temper my response because you are a 'native' and I am not.
    Please don't force your misleading views on this discussion in such a blanket way, because you may influence those who know no better.

    And it has only a little to do with scenery, so stop asking us to feel ashamed too.

    This island is *far* from being in 'terminal' decline, and I believe there are much better ways of developing its potential.

    better you go trade your wares to the larger world now ...

  4. Croft, I too can see the Whitelees site and the Blacklaw site. I would not describe them as beautiful. It is actually very easy to feel physically nauseous, passing them by, those rotating blades do not make easy viewing. I will, however, grant you that they are at least within shouting distance of major conurbations and therefore could be deemed as a practical solution, in this area. I fail to see that Eishken would provide a long term benefit to the island. Wind is not exactly capable of being regulated, and surely the power loss in transmission from Lewis to the mainland cannot be financially viable. Yes the islands should take best benefit they can for their own use, but surely they would be better served by smaller turbines in each village?

  5. Eishken isn't in itself the panacea, it's part of a bigger plan that would include other well designed farms located outwith the protected areas at Galson, Pairc and just south of Stornoway, development of manufacturing at Arnish, education at the UHI, attraction of more developers and researchers like nPower and Siader, pushing the H2Seed lab further, improving the recycling plant and resulting power generation...

    This idea that wind is not "regulated" and inconsistant is erroneous. Firstly, the capacity factors (the thing you refer to) for Lewis would be 40%+. This has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of time the turbines are generating electricity - it is simply a measure of how much electricity they generated over the year compared to if they had been operating at full speed all year (a thing that they never do, so in a sense a little bit meaningless to compare to). Secondly, ALL generators have a capacity factor less than 100% - nuclear is 76%, gas is 60%, coal is 50% - however I doubt if you would argue that nuclear “only” produces electricity for 9 months of the year, or that coal “only” produces electricity for 6 months of the year. And a good thing too, because to argue such a thing would just be silly.

    And small turbines in each village is probably a good thing but we need the larger farms for the socio-economic reasons outlined previously. We are not talking the giant mega windfarms that were originally Lewis Wind Power plans, these are smaller, well located and in conjunction with the many and varied designations of protection.

  6. @Croft I reserve the right to disagree with you.

    There are many better solutions, but I see no point in discussing them in this forum, in a back and forth manner where neither protagonist has to stay on-subject.

    I am sure that you must be aware that you can prove many different points of view with statistics, and also make very many errors.

    And I reiterate that for myself, it has *nothing*, repeat *NOTHING* to do with scenery ...!!

  7. @Soaplady There are no better solutions is the crucial point. If there are the comhairle and the rest of the island would love to hear them. And the statistics are pretty plain, not much spin needed to see what is happening.

    I just wanted to point out the seriousness of this issue and it's very real repercussions at a local level if people persist in blind opposition. Now is not the time for selfishness and procrastination.

    Anyway you know my views on internet arguing :)

  8. Internet arguing = good. Internet swearing and insulting = bad.
    I think you may be a rather confused young exile, TheTenement.

  9. I thought the post by Arnish was a good starting point for a dabate and Croft came in with the contra argument and for a while it looked tricky. However,some salient points have been over-looked......the methods of obtaining the energy (hopefully renewables) are one issue but for this little Island, a key issue is the lack of any suitable infra-structure to build/erect the turbines,inter-connector,connection to sub-stations and then onward transmission to mainland via sea-cable. Therefore, the massive invasion of plant/heavy machinery on very small rural populations is going to be massively disruptive and rather unpleasant. Even allowing for the lack of consideration for submitted reports and objections, very few people on the Island feel they have a voice on this subject...seems to many that the decision was made well in advance by a select few...and any potential jobs or Community benefits are yet to be detailed/supported and lack any transparency. I live here and make no apology for liking the scenery, however, I think MWT and JMT along with the scottish Reporter have all highlighted detailed Environmental concerns to which I add my own as someone who is in South Lochs surrounded by Eishken and Pairc........the local and regional area does NOT need this and will not be able to co-exist with it........RJG

  10. Croft, how can you say there are no better solutions ...!

    The best solution is for heavy and mega-users to USE LESS ELECTRICITY ...! for heavens sake stop treating electricity resources as if they were nothing important, as car showrooms and supermarkets do. Let the electricity companies do some number-crunching for the government to identify stupid usage ...

    Also (and this is off the top of my head mind), *Community*-based initiatives to generate their own renewables, including solar energy panels and community windymills, wave energy when its ready, whatever .... Two solar panels on top of a house, even in Scotland, can generate enough heat for central heating and water heating.
    When I say 'Community', I mean in communities all over GB ...

    Possibly, accept, chew up and swallow the idea of coal and nuclear power stations, for the middle-term future anyhow, possibly making improvements and researching new power sources to drive them. This is a Long-term aim.

    There *must* be plenty more (how *could* you say that there weren't any better ideas??!)

    Honestly, some people have to do all or nothing don't they ... and they do tend to incline towards the masculine gender ... Everything is black and white ... Fortune favours the brave ... Jump... or Die ... There is no inbetween ... no normal caution ... and heaven forbid that you should hang back a bit, ask for proper data, do a pilot first to prove concept ...

    And never *ever* start a debate on who benefits from this because they'll say you're a Conspiracy theorist ...!

    Dang-Nabbit, let's shit-or-bust on this one, don't let em see that we tossed a coin so that the bright things didn't think we were indecisive ...!

  11. Now, now, Soaplady, don't let the suds fly lol. Play the ball, not the man, please. Gawd, wrong metaphor in the context of your last comment, but you get my drift. Am enjoying this discussion by the way, plenty of valid points both pro and contra.

  12. @FC Patronising and pointless as ever. Back to scoffing kittycat and let the grown ups talk ;)

    @SL Using less electricity is a given. We have to. But it's unlikely to happen. The masses India, China, Africa, S.America are all headed for first world status. Try telling them to pass up the plasma tv and the big fridge freezer. And here we all sit at our laptops, moaning on the net as google servers suck down more power than we can imagine.

    Community energy on the island can and will happen. But again this will not help the islands socio-economic decline. I keep saying this. This particular issue is NOT about saving the planet, it is about saving the islands.

    And what nonsense on the gender side of the argument. There are as many if not more male fence-sitters and procrastinators on this issue as females.

    The saving grace on all this is that the vocal minority NIMBYs will lose this one, just like the sunday sailings this will be decided by business and a CNES on the right side of the argument for a change.

  13. Or why doesn't the island do what the habitants of Great Barrier Island,out on The Huarki Gulf on the pacific side of Auckland---THERE ARE NO MAINS ELECTRICITY AT ALL !!!!They all have generators in their garden sheds. I am being serious,I was gobsmacked last october when i stayed there for a week. Very few sealed roads,no broadband internet just the very basic slow net connections. Most of three hundred habitants would like an alternative but as they say living on such a beautiful,isolated place you cant have cake,plus the cherry on the top:

  14. Saving the island, yes ... Perhaps the island doesn't need 'saving', at least by this crackpot method ...? Perhaps the island will find its own, gentler way, rather than aspiring, very quickly, to become a cut-down version of Detroit ...

    People leave the island, yes ... perhaps they will always leave the island for the bright lights, but long after they're gone, the island will potter on ... This is what the people who *live* on the island like about it ...

    Gender yes ... A soapbox of mine, because my qualification is in developmental psychology ... I would assert that to retain hold on any kind of occupational or public-faced 'power' in this world, it is essential to have an opinion, and it is also better to align oneself with the popular 'jackpot' opinion, rather than ones own views ... Political doublethink perhaps, but can be observed being practised in all halls of power ...
    The global warming/ renewable energy industry really has pulled out all the stops in this case, recruiting those with influence to its cause, and fanning the public flame of fear to fever-pitch... It would be occupational or political suicide to speak out against its excesses, as many scientists are reported to have found.

    I wish we could be here, still within this argument in ten years time, given that the windmills would then be here ... or perhaps fifteen years, so we can review whether *any* of it did anything worthwhile for the islands, Mr Croft ... I believe I would make mincemeat out of you ... :-)

  15. Taddoe, I have often wondered what it would be like with no electricity at all ... Just as an experiment in living, it is quite attractive to me ...

    Having explored the ins and outs for many happy hours, in my head, I believe I could do it, and that I would enjoy it too ...

    Containers of water on the roof like they do in Turkey, for warm water ... A wind-up radio ... I'd *definitely* have to cut peats then, for fuel ... candle-light to read my books by ...

    Of course, I'd have to have my genny if I wanted to continue in Mail-order via the net, but it would be strictly rationed to once a day ... I couldn't think of any 'show-stoppers' ... :-)

  16. I will say in reply to Taddoe that people will not happily abandon technological progress. They WILL use the advanced technology, and certainly not be prepared to go back if it is not necessary. Ever read "The Physicists" by Friedrich Dürrenmatt? As my original piece points out, there will have to be a broad strategy to deal with the shift away from oil, which will come this century. And if wind-energy is part of that, does it really have to be in Lewis?

    I wouldn't like to think that those 1,800 men from this island who laid down their lives for King and Country in WW1 and WW2 did so for their precious land to be covered in ugly wind turbine towers. It would make a mockery of the Pairc Raiders, it would besmirch the memory of the poor souls kicked out of Eishken in 1820 for sheep. Progress by all means, but there are other ways - and a windfarm does not bring substantial, long-term, sustainable employment. Not directly, not indirectly. The fact that the Comhairle is running headlong, blindly towards the quick fix and quick buck solution is an indictment on them. The money side is derisory, I maintain, certainly when compared to the revenue made by the power companies and Mr Nick. It's an insult.

  17. Arnish, this is exactly what I meant by 'proper data'.

    One man says it will, and another man says it won't.
    How does the decision get made, well handshakes and nods mostly I suppose.

    But how do the People come to THEIR OWN opinions - that's far more interesting ...!!

    Do they defer to their peers and the opinions of people who they respect ...?
    Do they crunch various numbers to try to get to the real 'truth' ...?
    Do they go on what they read in the papers ...?
    Do they mistakenly project their view of life and 'progress' onto the problem ...?
    Do they work with their own view of occupational education and recruitment to conclude that it will lead to jobs for anyone from the islands ...?

    Criminal intelligence agencies and insurance companies have been working with the 'Who benefits from this' scenario for explaining most things since the days of Edward G Robinson in 'Double Indemnity' ...
    I find that it helps my opinion to be formed just fine ...

  18. "a windfarm does not bring substantial, long-term, sustainable employment. Not directly, not indirectly." Erm...yes it will and especially when in the context of the bigger renewables project.

    "The money side is derisory, I maintain, certainly when compared to the revenue made by the power companies and Mr Nick. It’s an insult." £400K+ a year guaranteed and £10m profit a year from the community scheme to plough back into the community for projects, schools, building, historical research? Mr Nick and his company of investors have their share having stumped up the cash. Lochs will have theirs having done likewise.

    I've sat and read everything I can on this development and the CNES plans for the renewables future. That's how I've come to my opinion on the matter. I did the same with the original LWP scheme and fell on the other side of the fence. It appears that the likes of MWT can't or won't be that flexible. Seems they are literally BANANAS. (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything)

    @soaplady I hold a BA (Honours) in Psychology from Strathclyde University and I specialised in Clinical Psych. My diagnosis is that you're all crazy ;)

    Finally @Arnish Shame on you for invoking the island's dead soldiers and land raiders in this debate. I will say this however, islanders have a long history of seeing through the bullshit foisted on them by others. They also have an incredible tie to their land and a strong sense of themselves as a people and a community. Lewis folk have always been a progressive and intelligent people not this backward, god-fearing, handout taking stereotype of late.

    (For the record our family has strong ties to the Lochs area, my uncle having been born in Orinsay and his family living there for generations.)

  19. @SL

    "People leave the island...but long after they’re gone, the island will potter on … This is what the people who *live* on the island like about it …"

    What an incredibly insulting statement. I sincerely doubt that is what islanders like or want, except for maybe the goodlifers and retirees. But judging by your posts you'd be happy to go back to the blackhouses, cruisie lamps and washing in water from the well. Maybe when Lewis becomes one of those historical theme parks we can all do that. I look forward to slipping into my tweeds and doffing my bunnet with a ciamar a tha thu to all the japanese towrists.

  20. I'm off to see the Wizard to get a brain so that one day I might be as cleaver as The Croft and then maybe I could know it all as well!!! sorry no punctuation but have got got brain yet.

  21. This getting a bit out of hand

  22. Och, it's just a wee debate Taddoe. Arguing is something Leodhasachs like to do.

    "Cha toir an uaisle goil air a phoit"

    Arnish and Soaplady knows I love them really. Everyone here just wants what they think is best for the place even though these thoughts may differ.

  23. @The Croft: I think this is about the closest we'll get on agreement in this discussion, namely these lines from your comment, #19:

    I will say this however, islanders have a long history of seeing through the bullshit foisted on them by others. They also have an incredible tie to their land and a strong sense of themselves as a people and a community. Lewis folk have always been a progressive and intelligent people ... .

  24. @Croft - where do you get 'insulting' from ...?!! Seems perhaps there's an element of twisting what I said in there, or more likely misunderstanding it ... :- )

    Perhaps I expressed myself badly ... What I mean by 'pottering' is making your way in the world either on your own, or in small ways - family businesses, small partnerships, the service industry, and yes, tourist-facing businesses.

    Before the qualification 'small' is also misinterpreted, I meant to use it in a way which can be opposed to large, faceless commercial conglomerates, where workers have no connection to the business apart from the fact that they take its money.

    I consider that *I* 'potter' ... I make my own hours, and sometimes I slack off if I feel like it ... not too often, but I can if I want ...

    And what you said about me in #20 is not true. But yes, I forgive you ... :-)

  25. PS: Croft, you have my sincere admiration for all the qualifications you have - what dedication ... :-)
    Am currently racking my brain to try and remember the content of another of your comments some while back now, where you told me that you were or had been, by occupation, a (I can't remember!!), and I recall thinking at that time 'Oh My ...!!' ...

    (giggling) :-) but can't be arsed to go thru archives ...!!

  26. @SL Think it's was the word pottering that got my goat/sheep. Such an industrious people, prepared to stand up to landlords and factors for the right to map their own future and not be beholden to others. Pottering by and relying on towrists to make ends meet is such an unfitting option.

    My Psych degree was as useful as a button on a sock. Lot of nonsense anyway. FYI I'm in the music biz dah-ling, surrounded by egotistical DJs and psychotic bands, maybe the qualifications are worth something after all...

  27. The Croft: I will take a wild guess and say that perhaps some of your relatives from Orinsay are directors of the Pairc Trust?
    As you are within hailing distance of Whitelees: Apart from the manufactured eco trail and sightseeing visits to metal tubes, what are the economic benefits to the local community resulting from the development of this particular wind farm? Also how many FTE jobs have been realised by the scheme and has this been a boost to local employment. I am trying to find out if these wind farms have been succesful in boosting the local and or national economy so that I can stop worrying about their effectc on ecosystems, views, house values, birds, bees, tourists and the fact that if we were reliant on wind power today the 'hamster' would have to be deployed to get the kettle working.

  28. @LGG No none of the Lochs relations are remotely involved in any trust just plain ol crofters. The economic benefits for you will be the guaranteed percentage of Mr O's development expected to be around £400K p.a. plus ownership of 6 community turbines generating £20m+ p.a. for your community. Obv you are responsible for purchase and operating costs but you will make a lot of money. Nick and co would not being doing this if it didn't make a pretty penny so the community losing out financially on this is not an issue at all, at all.

    As I've said before the Eishken scheme on it's own is not the saviour here but as part of a network of other, similarly modest developments feeding a new interconnector, funding small community schemes (free electricity!), joined to developing wave power, fabricating parts at Arnish, funding R&D at UHI, building skilled jobs, generating eco-tourism and keeping people on-island to live and work.

    Perhaps look at Denmark as an example of how wind developments aid economies. The Danish wind turbine industry is the world's largest employing around 20,000 people and with a turnover of around 3 billion euro. In particular check out the island of Samsø. 21 turbines on an island of only 4000 people and 114km.sq. Energy self sufficent, people making money from exporting electricity, their own energy academy, popular tourist destination (great beaches!) and wonderful potato and strawberry farms too. I'm not making an exact comparison here but their island is hardly a devastated industrial wilderness as a result of embracing wind technology. Looks like a vibrant, green and pleasant place to live, study and work...

  29. Samsø images

    Lewis is 15 times the size of Samsø has 4 times the population. A proportional number of wind turbines will not destroy the island's beauty if designed and placed according to environmental and planning designations. They can co-exist, the island can remain a great place but it could thrive, really. Communities on Lewis should be fighting for the best deal from developers and putting pressure on the money money to cut them a bigger slice of the cake. if you can half Nick's original plan you could certainly get a bigger share of the community designation. Group together and build your own schemes. Rather than oppose, create!

  30. Curious no answers to post 10 from myself re infra-structure etc.
    Perhaps when Croft and Soaplady have finished their mutual back-patting the debate might move on.
    For the record Croft...Pairc Community Trust has been actively seeking contact with Barry Lomas, who owns a lot of the Pairc Estate, with a view to purchasing the land for the Community.

  31. 30 shows images of turbines at sea and solar panels on land.......your point is......?

  32. GL Charming as ever...

    For the kid at the "special" table the images show a small island with a vibrant community making money, living greenly and educating themselves through some pioneering wind developments. 11 of the largest turbines are on land, 10 at sea with many more smaller community turbines in each village. Just to show that a community can co-exist with this so-called industrial disaster and still retain their beauty, tourism and rural way of life

    Re: infrastructure. If Eisheken gets the go ahead, SHETL will build the interconnector. Do you really think businessmen like Mr O et al would be ploughing money into unviable schemes, he'll have had the nod a long time ago, the survey ships will be doing their work, the rest is a given.

    Unfortunately, and I mean this, you will have a nice big substation on your doorstep. Not great. Concentrate your efforts on that problem I'd suggest. Hopefully it won't force you to move on again my newly arrived friend, I'd feel sad not to have your positive vibes around.


  33. Croft, are the wind turbines powered by hot air if so you would have a full time job keeping them going, and perhaps have less time to insult people.

  34. Guys, please stick to the topic, not to each other. Getting personal (either way) detracts from the discussion in hand. I'm approaching the point where I'm going to close comments, and transpose the valid points from comments into a new post.

  35. Ha ha BM, ever the rapier wit, you're quite the wag!

    How's the fishing?

    (Yeah close this up Arnish, the dafties have arrived. That's Mick's second pointless interjection and both him and GL appear to still have wee bees in their bonnets over the loss of that landrover driving, drama queen pal of theirs)

    Move on lads!


  36. Comments on this post are now closed