Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


Letter to the Committee from Stuart Young


  I am pleased to submit written evidence for the Committee's consideration in response to its invitation. I am a self-employed Construction Consultant from Dunnet in Caithness and my work is generally concerned with assisting Dounreay Nuclear Establishment in their decommissioning.

  I have done considerable research into energy requirements and how they can be met. I am not an expert, and I do not represent any organisation. I do know that my views are representative of almost all I have discussed the matter with, and given my connection with Dounreay, I have access to many knowledgeable and expert views.

  The Introduction to my Submission serves as a resumé of the topics covered, all of which I believe to be germane to the Committee's deliberations.

  While my submission is self-contained, I would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence and answer any questions the Committee might have.

5 January 2005


  1.1  I am a self-employed Construction Consultant, and a resident of Dunnet in Caithness. I run my business, which is focused on aiding Dounreay's decommissioning effort, from an office in my home.

  1.2  I have recently become aware of the nature and scale of proposals for onshore wind generation. I have attempted to inform myself of the environmental, social, and economic consequences of large-scale wind farm development with particular reference to its implications for Caithness, and through this have come to some conclusions on how future energy output can be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland's energy needs.

  1.3  The evidence I wish to present is not expert. It is a common sense interpretation of information in the public domain, and my views are subscribed to by many clever people I have spoken to in my search for information and understanding of our energy requirements.


  I wish to present my findings and conclusions to the Committee under the following headings:

    —  What is a typical wind turbine?

    —  Why we need geographical diversity.

    —  What is a large windfarm on a national scale?

    —  What is a large windfarm on a local scale?

    —  Surely a few turbines here and there won't make much difference?

    —  So what would be the consequences?

    —  The first thing to be done.

    —  The next thing to be done.

    —  Some observations on management of waste.

    —  Alternative energy sources.

    —  How future energy output can be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland's energy needs.

    —  What are job prospects after Dounreay?

    —  Conclusion and recommendation.


3.1  What is a typical wind turbine?

  Through examination of available information on a number of proposals in Caithness, a pattern emerges which indicates that a reasonable size of turbine to consider as representative is:

    —  One with a turbine height of 70 metres and rotors of 80 metres in diameter, a total height from ground to tip of 110 metres.

    —  It would have a capacity of 2.5 Megawatts, but it would generate to that capacity for a relatively small proportion of the time.

    —  For illustration I propose to use one third of the time, although I have heard figures of 24% and 27% being used with authority.

    —  It would typically be 350 metres distant from its neighbours, therefore occupy a space of 350 metres square. This is the equivalent area of almost 25 football fields 100 metres long by 50 metres wide.

    —  It would be linked to its neighbours by an unsurfaced track and would have a substantial hardstanding adjacent to it for construction purposes. Say the equivalent of a half kilometre of new track per machine.

    —  It would require little hands-on attention after commissioning. One person looking after two wind farms each of 40 turbines seems a reasonable expectation.

3.2  Why we need geographical diversity?

  To harness the capacity of a solitary wind turbine, then two other wind turbines are required, each in a different geographical area. This is because the wind either does not blow enough all the time, or it blows too hard some of the time, and the turbine has to be shut down. As the wind will generally always be blowing somewhere, and provided there are sufficient turbines distributed nationally to capture all wind conditions, a degree of security of supply can be anticipated in normal conditions.

  Therefore to harness the rated capacity of any one wind farm, two other similar wind farms will be required elsewhere in the country.

3.3  What is a large windfarm on a national scale?

  Hunterston B Nuclear Power Station, which is among those soon to be decommissioned, has a capacity of 1,288Mw. Just to replace this resource with onshore wind would require something like 1,546 new turbines dispersed across the country.

  This would occupy a gross area of land of just under 190 square kilometres, or 75 square miles.

  It would require the construction of 723 kilometres of access track.

  It might provide 20 full time jobs after commissioning.

  Torness at 1,364 Mw is proportionately larger:

    —  1,639 new turbines.

    —  201 square kilometres or 79 square miles of land.

    —  766 kilometres of access track.

    —  Perhaps 21 full time jobs.

  Both combined would occupy a gross area greater than that to the north east of the Wick to Thurso road, but of course they would have to be located uniformly throughout Scotland to capture the necessary diversity of wind conditions.

  This is large-scale on a national scale.

3.4  What is a large windfarm on a local scale?

  The Dounreay Prototype Fast Reactor, one of the smallest British nuclear power stations built, if not actually the smallest, was rated at 250 Megawatts, or the equivalent average generation of 300 wind turbines of 2.5 Mw capacity.

  Twenty-two wind farm developments are at some stage of evolution in the Caithness area at present, totalling some 386 turbines (which of course would require 772 others else where in the country to provide the rated supply).

  Please see Illustration No 1 which shows windfarm development proposals in this area as known at 23/11/04.[1]

  Construction News recently published the figure of 94 wind farm projects UK wide "in the pipeline" ie not under construction, and without planning permission yet. Of these, 19 are in Caithness. That is 20% of the nation's windfarms "in the pipeline" in Caithness.

  That is disproportionately large on a local scale.

3.5  Surely a few wind turbines here and there won't make much difference?

  The following scenario is as I would be affected, but similar situations will exist across the country.

  Caithness is a low-lying county, with long views. For example, from my office window, at an elevation of 25 metres above sea level I could clearly see at the time of writing:

    —  Scaraben, near Berriedale, 48 kilometres away.

    —  The radio masts and Ben-a-Chielt at Latheron, 33 kilometres away.

    —  Ben Griam Beg, 49 kilometres away.

    —  Ben Klibreck, 74 kilometres away.

    —  Ben Loyal, 62 kilometres away

    —  Ben Hope, 77 kilometres away.

  Please see Illustration 2 which shows sight lines to the places mentioned.[2]

  A typical turbine is 70 metres to the hub with 40 metre long rotor blades, a total of 110 metres high. In the northeast corner of Caithness, there is very little land above the height of 110 metres above sea level, and the proposed turbines would occupy the higher ground. There is nowhere to site a windfarm which would not have an overwhelming impact on the visual environment. There is no opportunity for "sensitive placement" of turbines.

  Please see Illustration 3 which shows the areas of Caithness which do not reach an elevation of 110 metres above sea level.[3]

  From my office window I would see at least parts of:

    —  Durran Windfarm 10 kilometres away (25 turbines, all visible).

    —  Spittal Hill Windfarm 16 kilometres away (47 turbines, all visible).

    —  Buolfruich 37 kilometres away (15 turbines, layout unknown, say 50% visible).

    —  Dunbeath 42 kilometres away (25 turbines, layout unknown, say 20% visible).

    —  Lieurary 16 kilometres away (3 turbines, all totally visible).

    —  Baillie 20 kilometres away (20 turbines, 19 visible).

    —  Broubster 21 kilometres away (58 turbines, layout unknown, say 50% visible).

  Step up to the road at my front door and:

    —  Scoolary Windfarm 7 kilometres away (48 turbines, all visible, several from my kitchen).

  Illustration 4 shows sightlines to the prominent windfarm locations as viewed from my home.[4]

  Illustration 5 shows how Scoolary Windfarm would look from our local tourist attraction, Mary Ann's Cottage, about 300 metres from my home.[5] (Our other local tourist attraction, the Castle of Mey, would be totally dominated by Scoolary Windfarm.)

  Illustration 6 shows Durran and Tister Windfarm, and Spittal Hill Windfarm as they would look from my home.[6]

  Illustration 7 shows how Lieurary Windfarm would look from my home.[7]

  Illustration 8 shows how Baillie Windfarm would look from my home.[8]

  The committee might think that I am adopting a "not in my backyard" attitude, but it is everyone in Caithness's backyard. Every community would be dominated by windfarms, if not by those listed above, then by others of the 22 potential windfarms currently in the pipeline.

  Even if only 25% of the proposed developments were to go ahead, windfarms would become the dominant feature of a landscape prized for its "skyscapes".

  The visual amenity of a whole county would be sacrificed and less than one third of the capacity of one small nuclear power plant would be replaced.

3.6  So what would be the consequences?

  Caithness depends on Dounreay and tourism. Dounreay will employ fewer people year by year so it is essential that tourism is nurtured, and I cannot subscribe to the view that people will come to Caithness to see windfarms. Windfarm is actually a euphemism for Electricity Generation Industrial Estate, and there will be plenty of these to see much nearer folks' homes than Caithness. Orkney will lose its attraction to tourists through windfarm development so even the "passers-through" will diminish in numbers. With no Dounreay and a failing tourist industry, Caithness faces a bleak prospect of rising unemployment, rising migration from the county, falling house prices and empty properties, and nothing to keep young people here.

  And this is entirely outwith our own control.

3.7  The first thing to be done

  By virtue of the 1989 Electricity Act, planning decisions for windfarm developments over 50 Mw are made by the Scottish Executive, which makes no secret of its appetite for windfarms. The scoping report for Spittal Hill Windfarm lists 33 organisations to be consulted during the Environmental Impact Assessment, and a further 17 to be consulted by the Scottish Executive. Of these, only Highland Council might speak up for the people of Caithness and for our future generations. One voice in 50 is unlikely to make an impact.

  We have been effectively disenfranchised. We can exercise our democratic right and vote out one Lib Dem MSP, and one Lib Dem MP who has no sway in the Scottish Parliament, neither action being likely to influence the Scottish Executive.

  The future of renewable energy generation is of national importance, and it is right that the Scottish Executive control the wider issues. It is not right that they decide on individual windfarm applications. These are local matters.

  The terms of the 1989 Electricity Act must be altered to return local planning issues to local control where the electorate can hold local councillors accountable, and where the people will have a voice.


  Remove the artificial motivation for the proliferation of inappropriate windfarm proposals, and the grant schemes which actually act against the objectives of reducing harmful emissions.

    —  Repeal the legislation which allows the trade in Renewables Obligations Certificates without any obligation to supply electricity from renewable sources.

    —  Remove incentives to reduce hydro-electric generation to bring individual schemes down to a grant aided threshold, which actually reduces genuine renewable energy generation.

  I apologise to the committee for being unable to supply references for the foregoing, but as Members have better access to research than me, they will not find it difficult to identify the source legislation and incentives.

3.9  Some observations on management of waste

  I can provide no technical input to the management of nuclear waste, but I strongly believe that waste should be dealt with where it is produced, and not given to others to deal with.

  One thing is sure. A community being asked to accept waste from elsewhere will produce a much stronger case than the community from where it comes.

  Caithness in general is comfortable with nuclear issues, and most people here, I believe, would accept that Dounreay waste issues should be dealt with by Dounreay.

3.10  Alternative energy sources

  Again, I can provide no expert advice, but I would offer the following observations:

  Coal. Not readily available and a proven greenhouse gas emitter. A good technical source of power, but no longer acceptable as a main source of core generation.

  Oil. Resources under British control are limited and there is no reliable long term source of supply. A greenhouse gas emitter.

  Gas. Resources under British control are limited and there is no reliable long term source of supply. A greenhouse gas emitter.

  Biomass. I am not sure that I understand this term, but presumably timber is a large element. King Henry the Eighth's naval building devastated England's timber resources, so I do not think our forests will last very long used as a principal source of power generation. Having said that, there is clearly a place for such sources on a local scale, and it is happening now in Wick.

  Photovoltaic. I understand this to be photo-electric cells. There is clearly a place for this in the overall scheme of energy supply, but it is never going to play a large part.

  On-shore wind. I believe that onshore wind generation is basically a sound source of energy in the right circumstances.

  My view of the right circumstances is where:

    (a)  the source of supply is close to the point of need;

    (b)  the turbines become part of the landscape; and

    (c)  where it is acceptable to the local community.

  Oddly enough, these are the general requirements of Legislation and Guidance to Planning Authorities.

  Offshore wind. This is more environmentally acceptable from a visual impact point of view, particularly the further offshore the turbines are located. Offshore generation will suffer the same low operational time problems and will be much more costly than onshore to construct and maintain. There is still the problem of the sheer numbers required to provide substantial contribution to our energy requirements.

  Wave power. This would have the same limitations of wind power in that its availability cannot be guaranteed so many sources from diverse locations would be required. Also, where the best waves are found, so are the most demanding structural requirements.

  Tidal power. This is a very attractive option for me. Subsurface turbines would not suffer the same stresses as surface installations. The tide can be predicted and relied upon twice a day. It comes at predictably different times all round the coast. But it is more likely that the source of generation will be remote from distribution facilities and it will therefore be costly to install the infrastructure and fund the distribution.

  Nuclear. No longer politically acceptable.

3.11  How future energy output can be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland's energy needs

  I have no answer to this.

    —  Fossil fuels are limited and damaging.

    —  Minor sources such as biomass and photovoltaic are effectively fringe elements.

    —  Onshore wind can never provide enough power, and the scale of building will at some time or other become unacceptable to the public and therefore to politicians.

    —  Offshore wind would be more acceptable to the public but too expensive to have as our principal source of generation.

    —  Wave power is unlikely in my view to make more than a nominal contribution.

    —  Tidal power seems to me to be a good bet but installation and distribution costs will probably confine it to limited locations. It is unlikely to be a major contributor to our energy requirements. In any case, development lags long behind our needs.

    —  Imported power might solve short-term problems, but would be hugely risky as far as long term political relationships are concerned. Furthermore, a main power artery would be at grave risk from terrorist attack.

    —  Nuclear is politically unacceptable.

  Nuclear is also the only realistic way in which the UK can become self-reliant on its generation requirements, and it is efficient, reliable, and, I believe, cost-effective. A modern plant built today will not have the decommissioning costs associated with early-day plants like Dounreay because that is where the investment for the future was made, and we shouldn't throw it away.

3.12  What are job prospects after Dounreay?

  Without a major change in the way we are heading, there are very few prospects for Caithness, but if we can preserve our environment from inappropriate and ineffective windfarm development, and retain our responsibility for dealing with our own waste, both nuclear and non-nuclear, then we can improve the general prospects over a longer period.


  I believe that we have no alternative but to place our reliance for electricity generation on nuclear sources.

  I believe that power should be generated near its point of requirement, but I also believe that the social, economical and environmental benefits from a new nuclear power station in Caithness would more than overcome the disadvantages.

  A new nuclear power station in Caithness would provide substantial employment and economic stability for many years.

5 January 2005

1   Not printed. Back

2   ibid. Back

3   ibid. Back

4   ibid. Back

5   ibid. Back

6   ibid. Back

7   ibid. Back

8   ibid. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 7 April 2005