Public Meeting on Windfarms, Lumsden

Posted in Civics, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 27, 2003

Found this in a folder on my laptop from June 2003 and thought I’d post it in its historical context (for the record actually posted 8 March 2014).  I haven’t edited it, mostly because although stylistically weak, it was and still is not far off the mark.


I attended, along with many other people, a meeting in Lumsden Village Hall about the proposed windfarm at Kildrummy. This generated a number of thoughts.

As a visual arts professional working in a remote and rural location I believe that the current development of windfarms in rural areas is an appropriate subject for reflection.

Firstly, windfarms represent the largest industrial development that will take place in rural areas in the foreseeable future.

Secondly, these windfarms are subject to public consultation, but the level of debate about the subject is uneven.

Thirdly, much of the resistance movement articulates its core argument around visual impact, and as a person with some expertise in this field, it seems appropriate to begin to explore the subject with a visual ‘hat’ on.

Background gained from public meeting

There are a significant number of wind farm proposals at various stages of development in the Marr area. These include the proposal for Kildrummy as well as proposals at the Clashindarroch Forest behind the Tap O’ Noth, and at the Glens of Foudland. These are all being developed by different companies.

There are many views about the efficiency of the wind farms. According to the presentation and discussion at Lumsden Village Hall the companies are seeking planning permission for periods of around 25 years with a life expectancy for the wind farm of 20 years and an allowance of time for installation and decommissioning. It appears that it takes about 10 years for the wind farm to pay for itself, i.e. in financial terms the all the cost associated with the wind farm is met from income earned during the first 10 years. After that the wind farm is generating profit for the company.

This is not necessarily the same as the point at which the material and energy consumed in constructing the wind farm is ‘paid off’. There is a negative environmental impact from the material and energy consumed in construction, and a positive impact from the generation of energy from a renewable source.

There is therefore an argument about the efficacy of wind farms as a means of generating energy.

One of the major concerns expressed in the meeting was that in decommissioning only about one third of the concrete used in the foundations of the turbines would be removed.

There is also an argument about the impact of the wind farms on the inhabitants and communities.

Two specific arguments were made against wind farms:

  • They would reduce tourism in the area.
  • They would lower property prices in the area.

These arguments are made, but are rarely contextualised by the more general issue about the impact of infrastructure developments in our environment. These include High Voltage Power lines, Mobile Phone Masts, Water and Waste Water infrastructure, the proliferation of signs along roadsides, etc. We have, perhaps even since humankind ceased to be hunter-gatherers (around 4000 BC in this area), modified the landscape. It is difficult to identify the man-made versus the natural in our environment. Perhaps since the agricultural revolution, and the intensive programme of farm improvements, seen increasingly industrial scale infrastructure within the landscape. Perhaps the most basic form of this is the road, starting with the turnpike.

In this context it is worth noting that windmills have been a characteristic part of the landscape in other parts of the UK and Europe over a very long period. Water wheel meal mills have been an important localised infrastructure in villages across the North East of Scotland for a long period.

According to the discussion in the meeting at Lumsden Village Hall there is no ‘national renewable energy strategy’. Two reasons for this were raised at the meeting. Firstly it was suggested that the government’s view was that the most efficient means of achieving targets was to put in place financial incentives. The financial incentives drive the energy companies to implement the most achievable systems quickly, hence wind farms rather than other forms of renewable energy. The second reason suggested was that any national strategy would have to look at sites, and this would effectively involve the government in prioritising benefit to some landowners over others. The result has been what was described as a Klondike effect with landowners rushing to see if they have suitable sites.

The lack of a national strategy means that there is no authoritative assessment of the means of producing renewable energy, i.e. no analysis of the effectiveness of wind farms in comparison to wave power, solar voltaic, combined heat and power, geothermal, etc. Just the ability to list this number of alternatives highlights the need for broader analysis. It also suggests that the development and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies is ad hoc rather than rational.

It is of interest that the specific wind farms in this area have funding in various forms associated with them. This will benefit:

  • The landowner
  • The community
  • The local authority

All are likely recipients of financial benefits. These are perceived as a bribe.

It is estimated that the community of Lumsden and Kildrummy will receive approximately £30,000 per year over the life span of the windfarm. It is expected that this will be distributed through an independent trust or other body to the benefit of the community.

It has struck me that rather than frittering this away, one might prepare or commission a renewable energy strategy for the local area. There are sources of funding for this sort of work from various agencies in any case. One might then invest the £600,000 that will be made available to the community during the lifetime of the wind farm in implementing the renewable energy strategy within the community. This might take the form of incentivising people to use solar voltaic panels on their roofs, or, preferably, implementing a mixed economy of renewable energy technologies.

At the end of 20 years the wind farm could then be removed because the community was making its own, appropriate and well thought out, contribution to energy demand.

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