Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has proposed a 39-turbine development at Strathy South in Sutherland, which would only operate for a maximum of 25 years.
Windfarms reduce carbon emissions by displacing more polluting forms of energy generation from the electricity grid, such as coal fired power stations. However, there are carbon emissions associated with manufacturing and installing the turbines and other infrastructure.
Whilst most windfarms generate significant climate benefits by reducing emissions, when windfarms are built on peatland sites these benefits can be significantly reduced.
SSE’s proposed Strathy South windfarm would be situated on a peatland site in the heart of the internationally important peatlands of the Flow Country in Sutherland and is being vigorously opposed by RSPB Scotland because of the harm it would cause the peatland habitats and the birds they support.
To help inform the case against the windfarm, RSPB Scotland commissioned an independent expert review of the carbon impacts of the proposed development. The review found that while SSE claimed the carbon payback period would be between -0.5 and 4.6 years, it would in fact be much more likely to be between 4 and 16.1 years.
In one scenario, where the electricity from the windfarm displaced a mix of energy from the national grid rather than just fossil fuels, it could even be up to 24.8 years.
An RSPB Scotland spokesman said: “We are a strong supporter of renewables, including windfarms because sensibly-sited turbines reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are an essential part of the solution to climate change, which is a major threat to wildlife and people around the world.
“However, peat ‘locks-up’ and stores carbon that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere, preventing it adding to our greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Scotland’s peatland habitats are therefore a critically important carbon store.”
In 2010 RSPB Scotland and other conservation organisations signed up to a set of good practice peatland principles’ to help the industry deliver much needed renewable energy whilst avoiding damage to Scotland’s peatlands. Most windfarm developers adhere to these simple principles.
Aedán Smith, Head of Planning and Development for RSPB Scotland said: “RSPB Scotland firmly supports wind energy. Most windfarms pose no serious threat to wildlife and we therefore object to only a very small number of proposals each year. However, projects must be sited to both minimise impacts on wildlife and to make the biggest possible contribution to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions – otherwise what is the point?
“This independent analysis of SSE’s Strathy South proposal shows that the benefits from this windfarm could be minimal.
“The results from this analysis are startling but not entirely surprising given the sensitivity and importance of this peatland site. SSE should abandon their plans for this site and concentrate on developing sites which can make a bigger difference to Scotland’s climate objectives.”