A campaign group has accused the offshore wind industry of creating “environmental devastation” – and claimed that the impact will become greater as more projects are developed.
Scotland Against Spin took issue with a Scottish Government survey which found that a majority of people approve of offshore wind farms. Those living in coastal areas cited the economic benefits of offshore, according to the study, while the effects on tourism “could be minimal”.
Industry body Scottish Renewables said the findings indicated that most members of the public recognise the social and economic importance of the offshore wind sector.
However, Scotland Against Spin chairman Graham Lang maintained that offshore developments are posing a threat to seabirds, including puffins and kittiwakes, and to fish species such as haddock, cod and mackerel.
He also pointed to a report by marine scientists from Heriot-Watt University and St Abbs Marine Station which found that lobster larvae exposed to the electromagnetic field of underwater power cables are unable to swim as well and are three times more likely to be deformed.
Mr Lang said: “The environmental devastation we are seeing at the moment is only the tip of the iceberg and people may have an entirely different opinion of offshore wind farms once they are all operational and reality strikes home.
“Have the respondents even considered the unsightly onshore infrastructure such as cables, substations and pylons which accompany these offshore developments? Is that what tourists visiting Scotland and the people who live here really want to see?”
The Scottish Government highlighted the target of reducing the country’s emissions of all greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2045.
In the conclusions to the survey, it states: “The most significant finding from this study is that [a] majority of people from both samples, national and coastal, approve of offshore wind farms. Furthermore, this approval of offshore wind farms is present throughout the population, regardless of demographic subgroup or locality, and this persists with lived experience of, or proximity to, a wind farm.
“When presented with a range of features of offshore wind farms, those who live in coastal areas are most likely to cite local economic boosts as their main benefit. This may be because of the jobs created through the construction, development and maintenance of offshore wind farms and other industries in the supply chain.
“Renewable industries are seen by national and coastal respondents alike as more socially and economically valuable than non-renewable energy industries (e.g. oil and gas), noting that non-renewable industries still have high value.
“The research indicates that potential impacts on the tourist industry and businesses that rely on tourists located near to offshore wind farms could be minimal given that the vast majority of respondents would not avoid an area simply because of an offshore wind farm. The findings show that only a small minority of respondents would be put off holidaying in a location in Scotland if they could see a wind turbine, and that others would actually be more likely to visit an area with turbines.”
Earlier this year 17 projects were offered the rights to specific areas of the seabed for offshore wind development as part of the ScotWind leasing auction.
Mr Lang said: “According to the RSPB, the offshore wind developments already in operation or under construction are predicted to kill hundreds of seabirds each year, including kittiwakes and puffins. Development on the scale of the ScotWind auction can be expected to have greater impacts and only add to the pressure on Scotland’s struggling seabirds.
“Shetland Fishermen’s Association is calling on the Scottish Government to consider the impact of these offshore developments as they fear that building turbines in these ecologically sensitive areas could see populations of species such as haddock, cod, mackerel, herring and blue whiting adversely affected.
“Fishermen are now questioning whether ministers or Marine Scotland even took spawning grounds into account in their rush to auction off vast areas of sea to multinational energy firms
“A report by scientists of Heriot-Watt University shows electromagnetic fields created by the cables which transport energy from offshore wind farms make lobster larvae three times more like to grow deformed, with bent tail sections most common. These deformities can also include disrupted eye development and the paper says that this resulted in the creatures being three times more likely to fail a swimming test – showing their ability to get to the surface to find food is impaired.
“Were the respondents aware of these issues when they professed overwhelming and unqualified support for massive increases in offshore wind? The results of surveys, of course, come down to how respondents were recruited and what questions were asked.”
As well as the existing Beatrice project, the Moray East and Moray West wind farms are being developed off the east coast and there are plans to build the Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm around 6.5 kilometres off Dounreay. It will have up to seven turbines with a maximum blade-tip height of 300 metres.
Charlotte Stamper, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “It’s encouraging to see from this report that the vast majority of respondents recognise the social and economic importance of Scotland’s offshore wind farm developments, particularly those in coastal communities who will be the very people who will benefit most tangibly from these projects.
“Offshore wind is about to transform our coastlines with 17 new projects delivering capacity of up to 25GW and bringing between £20-30 billion of investment in coming decades.
“The benefits to Scottish communities will be transformational. These projects have committed to invest in Scotland – and specifically in supply chain businesses – on a scale never seen before in any industry.
“This investment will allow Scottish firms to compete in the global offshore wind market, deliver tens of thousands of skilled jobs and revitalise communities which currently rely on seasonal tourism.”