The Lewis wind farm and the need to compromise environmental values

After steering the Lewis wind farm proposal though a six year development process, the Scottish Government has decided not to consent to the proposal. The Scottish Energy Minster is reported as saying that the proposal by Lewis Windpower to build a 181 turbine wind farm on the Western Isles of Scotland would have a ‘serious impact’ on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area, which is the home to a number of rare and endangered species of birds (http://www.forbes.com/markets/feeds/afx/2008/04/21/afx4911829.html). These include Golden Eagles, Merlins, Dunlins and Greenshanks.

If the proposal had gone ahead it would have created the largest concentration of wind power in the world, capable of generating as much energy as two large nuclear power stations. It would have supplied enough energy to meet the needs of 450,000 homes and would have cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1.85 million tonnes per annum, meeting 6% of the UK’s renewable energy targets. In a press release dated 21/04/2008 Lewis Wind Power describe themselves as being ‘bitterly disappointed by the Scottish Government’s decision’. They stress the environmental benefits of the proposal and point out that it would have lead to the creation of 680 jobs across Scotland. See (http://www.lewiswind.com/news/viewnews.php?id=39).

I do not raise this issue in order to criticise the Scottish Government’s decision. I do not know whether the Scottish Government has made the right decision or not. Indeed I do not think that there is a right decision. In my opinion the value of creating ‘green energy’ is incommensurable with the value of preserving the lives and wildlife habitats of rare and endangered species of birds. In other words there is no way of directly and objectively comparing the two sorts of considerations. The reason I raise this issue is to point out something surprising about the attitude of some of the environmentalists who have opposed the Lewis wind farm, and this is their apparent inability to understand that compromises are necessary if we are to address the threat of global climate change, and that most likely these will need to include compromises of environmental values.

Prominent environment campaign groups who have opposed the Lewis wind farm include Greenpeace and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). According to the RSBP’s Scotland director Stuart Housden the Scottish Government’s decision not to allow the Lewis wind farm to go ahead “…sends a very strong message that in meeting our ambitious and welcome renewable targets, we do not have to sacrifice our most important environmental resources.” I find this attitude disturbingly unrealistic for two reasons. First, the targets are ambitious and it is completely unrealistic to think that they will be met in a way that doesn’t compromise some important environmental values. The Scottish Government aims to produce 31% of electricity from renewables in three years time and 50% by 2020. Perhaps we could slowly and painstakingly increase the proportion of renewable energy produced without compromising the environment, but it is fanciful to think that we could do so in such a short time frame. Second, if we fail to reach these targets then the risk to the environment due to climate change will most likely be much, much greater than any risks to the environment associated with wind farms. The threat of global climate change should be a wake up call for all of us, including environmentalists.

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One Response to The Lewis wind farm and the need to compromise environmental values

  • Robin Stafford says:

    I’ve just spotted Steve Clarke’s post on Greenpeace’s objection to the Lewis Wind Farm proposal. I studied this in some detail as part of some post grad work as it seemed a protracted and very curious decision process. I ended up being very disappoined by Greenpeace’s apparently disingenuous objection to the proposals, the objections to which were led by Moorlands Without Turbines, a wholly uncontactable group on Lewis who perfectly illustrate your points about vocal local groups. Their arguments included the point that there was little point in the wind-farm as it would be a pin-prick on the world’s overall problems.

    I felt that Greenpeace were supporting some very dubious arguments and groups and told them so. I’ve cancelled my membership as I fear that they are more interested in protest than the practicalities – and compromises – needed to tackle the problems

    So who out there is making sensible compromises?

    Regards

    Robin Stafford

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