Letter to the Committee from Stuart Young
MEETING SCOTLAND'S FUTURE ENERGY NEEDS
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
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.
2. SUBJECT MATTER
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
What is a large windfarm on a local
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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
Please see Illustration 3 which shows the areas
of Caithness which do not reach an elevation of 110 metres above
From my office window I would see at least parts
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,
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.
Illustration 5 shows how Scoolary Windfarm would
look from our local tourist attraction, Mary Ann's Cottage, about
300 metres from my home.
(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.
Illustration 7 shows how Lieurary Windfarm would
look from my home.
Illustration 8 shows how Baillie Windfarm would
look from my home.
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
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. Resources under British control are limited
and there is no reliable long term source of supply. A greenhouse
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;
(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
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
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
5 January 2005
1 Not printed. Back