A total of 2834 MW of green power capacity is operational and another 3739 MW have been granted consent, with 19,500 MW in the planning stages, according to a report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The total output is three times more than the 8 GW needed to meet Scotland’s 2020 target of 50% of electricity from renewable energy facilities.
The paper, Facilitating Sustainable Development of Renewable Energy Generation Capacity, describes the work being done by SNH to facilitate development of renewable energy generation in Scotland, focusing on terrestrial renewable energy.
“We have invested considerable staff resources, research and preparation of advice in the development of renewable energy in Scotland,” the report explains, including recruitment of renewable energy casework advisers and policy staff (including some dedicated to marine renewables) and an investment of £250,000 in renewable energy research.
It has established a “strongly supportive” renewable energy policy and produced 30 pieces of guidance for developers and planners on renewable energy, “many of which are now setting the standard across the UK.”
SNH has responded to 230 formal planning applications for renewable energy proposals and reviewed 1300 applications during the development stage, of which 75% receive the agency’s support. “Those which we object to tend to be in, or have the potential to affect, a designated site.”
An additional 8500 MW of offshore wind and between 500 and 2000 MW of marine renewables is under development (and scheduled for development by 2020), meaning that “Scotland can easily meet its existing renewables ambitions, and could easily meet 100% of our electricity needs, based on the resource available,” the report concludes.
“The challenge now is to find the best mix of technologies and the right balance between environmental impacts and the climate change / socio economic benefits of renewable energy.”
“Given the good progress we are making towards targets and the exceptional renewable energy resources we have, there does not seem to be a need to make significant changes to our approach,” it adds. “One of our key objectives, as set out in both our policy position and guidance, is to ensure that the development of renewable energy occurs in a sustainable manner.”
Developers are interested in areas with good access to the grid, good transport options and a good wind resource, which “has led to a pattern of clustering of windfarms in some areas,” which leads to “the risk of significant adverse cumulative landscape and visual effects in areas close to the Scottish population,” it adds.
“Adverse cumulative effects form the basis of many of our comments in relation to windfarm cases in the wider countryside.”
A number of challenges for renewable energy developments remain, including helping local authorities to develop an understanding of landscape capacity for wind farms (“an area where local communities have strong views”), it states. Of the 4 GW of onshore wind that has been consented, only 1.4 GW has been built.
“Debate over the construction of wind farms on deep peat is ongoing and there are concerns about the carbon payback of some wind farm proposals,” it explains. “Where wind farms offer a particularly poor carbon payback, there may be a need for us to revisit our current approach.”
“Our understanding of the effects of micro renewables (and in particular micro wind turbines) on nature conservation is limited, with little evidence from installed devices to base our advice on,” it notes. “Further research is needed to clarify if there is any impact on birds and bats in particular.”
Scottish Natural Heritage is the government’s advisor on nature and landscape.