The following article appeared in the Sunday Express Scotland on 23 June 2013.
To visit the gently rolling foothills of Coiliochbhar on Donside in June, is to visit the Garden of Eden. The deep emerald green of the fields contrasts sharply with the azure blue of the wide, North East Scotland sky. The River Don sparkles in the distance, catching the midday sun. Dark green clumps of mature spruce, birch and lichen covered larch dot the side of the majestic 1700 ft Coiliochbhar; patches of brown, dry-heath moorland can be seen near the top of the hill. This unique patchwork landscape is the home to rare capercaillie, black grouse, merlin and even a pair of breeding ospreys. It was also the home of the famous poet and Doric Bard – Charles Murray (1864-1941), who penned numerous eulogies to his birthplace in the Howe of Alford. It was here that the celebrated Aberdeen Angus breed of cattle was founded and small herds of these sleek, black animals can be seen grazing contentedly on the sloping pastures.
This tranquil part of rural Aberdeenshire, which makes up the vast, saucer-shaped Howe of Alford, has acted as a contemporary magnet for people seeking to escape the rat race. Ancient, derelict farm-steadings have been rebuilt and refurbished from one end of the valley to the other, bringing fresh employment and more importantly, young families into this remote rural setting, revitalizing the local economy and breathing new life into village schools, shops and businesses.
But this country idyll is now under threat. Several, ugly wind turbines stand in stark contrast to their surroundings, churning endlessly and visible for miles. Erected by local farmers, no doubt lured by promises of rich feed-in-tariffs and cut-price power, these mini-monsters besmirch the beauty of the valley like boils on the nose of the Mona Lisa. But as much of rural Scotland has come to realize, turbines breed like rabbits and now Infinis, who call themselves one of the UK’s leading generators of renewable energy, have set their sights on Coiliochbhar Hill.
A hefty environmental impact assessment, sets out their plans for six, 115 metre high turbines, producing an estimated 20 GW of electricity per year. The project has all the ingredients of a typical industrial wind factory: wealthy estates, absentee landlords, tenants too terrified to object and a community divided.
This environmental impact assessment reveals the true horror of the project, which will tower above Alford village only two miles away and will be visible for 50 miles, destroying the Howe of Alford with access roads, borrow pits, parking spaces, electricity sub-stations, pylons, overhead lines and masses of concrete and steel for the towering turbines; not to mention the estimated 13,500 vehicle movements for huge trucks and bulldozers during the construction phase, on roads barely wide enough for a tractor.
The Tibberchindy project has already attracted 366 letters of objection and only 3 letters of support, but already Infinis are dumping bags of gold on the table, offering £2,000 per year for every megawatt of electricity generated, payable into a special community development fund. They say that this could net between £24,000 and £36,000 annually for the local community, omitting to mention that every penny of this bribe will be added directly onto consumers’ energy bills, together with the vast subsidies that enable them to fill their own energy company’s pockets and offer rich fees to compliant estate-owners and farmers.
Planning guidelines that prohibit the construction of industrial turbines within 2 km of an occupied dwelling will be ignored by the Tibberchindy project, as will the impact of this landscape vandalism on the Cairngorms National Park, only 5 miles distant. Eight A-listed and 48 B-listed buildings will have their views destroyed. Three major historical sites will be in close proximity to the proposed wind factory at Tibberchindy; Kildrummy Castle, the site of the Battle of Alford and Craigievar Castle. The 13th century Kildrummy Castle was the historic seat of the Earls of Mar; Historic Scotland currently plans to stage jousting re-enactments in its grounds. The 17th century Craigievar Castle is also a major tourist attraction in the area; all six turbines will be visible from parts of its grounds.
Even to consider defiling an area of such landscape grandeur in Scotland would be considered a crime by most people. But the SNP policy juggernaut that seeks to achieve the equivalent of 100% of electricity production from renewables by 2020 trundles on, blind to all protests. Giant industrial turbines are now springing up around Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the Lammermuir Hills in the Borders, the Galloway Hills, overlooking the Championship golf courses in St Andrews and Turnberry and on the Braes of Doune, behind Stirling Castle. Nowhere is sacred. Nobody can escape Alex Salmond's determination to "re-industrialise Scotland".
And yet future generations will wonder why we allowed our globally renowned landscape to be destroyed by this fatuous obsession with wind turbines. Only last week, it was announced that Scotland had failed to meet its CO2 emission targets for the second year running, despite the thousands of ugly steel windmills that already litter our countryside. The reason is clear. Wind energy is a myth. Wind turbines only produce electricity for around 25% of their short, 15 to 20 year lifespan. The rest of the time they stand idle and we have to rely on expensive imported gas to keep the country running. That is why there are now 900,000 Scottish households suffering from actual fuel poverty. That is why businesses and industries are failing in Scotland and jobs are being lost. Meanwhile, public subsidies support wind farm employment in Scotland to the tune of £154,000 per job per year.
The only people benefiting from the wind factory Klondyke are the fat-cat energy companies and the wealthy landowners. In fact, there wouldn't be a single wind turbine anywhere in Scotland if it wasn't for the huge subsidies paid directly by the beleaguered consumers. Coiliochbhar Hill on Donside is simply the latest irreplaceable part of our landscape heritage to face the onslaught of the turbine tyrants. Scotland's own Garden of Eden will soon be a churning, flickering, vibrating, concrete and steel wind factory while the shareholders of Infinis and a few absentee landlords rub their hands in glee.