Glasgow and Surrounds

Last week saw me travelling in and around Glasgow, as my focus shifted more towards onshore wind. The hillsides and moors around Glasgow are dotted with wind farms, large and small – but it was the large ones I was particularly interested in.

Scottish Power Renewables’ Whitelee wind farm is the largest onshore wind farm in the UK, but also a bit of a special case in terms of the role it plays connecting people with the wind energy sector. Less than half an hour from Glasgow, Whitelee’s 215 turbines generate 539MW of power, but the facility’s role is bigger than that.

Unlike many wind farms, which are not publicly accessible, Whitelee actively encourages visitation, with a purpose-built visitor centre, miles of walking and cycling paths and a mountain biking trail (done by the same folks who did the one for Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games, no less). As a result, the wind farm is also a piece of public open space – that the public appear to have broadly embraced.

This has meant that the land (which grazes some sheep, but is very marginal from an agricultural perspective) has additional use. More importantly, it provides the general public with the ability to interact with a wind farm – to walk right up to, and around, the turbines and form their own views about things like visual amenity, noise, impact on landscape and the like. As an asset to educate about, and promote, wind energy it does a pretty good job.

That said, it’s not necessarily a model for every wind farm either, as the interactivity diminishes the economics of the project (Scottish Power Renewables aren’t charging people to come to the visitor centre or go for a walk) – so it’s not something that can be done everywhere. The folks at SPR gave me a tour of the project, and talked me through the local project development landscape, as well as the management of community benefit funds.

Driving around, I also headed down to SSE’s Clyde Wind Farm (just a shade smaller than Whitelee with 152 turbines producing 522 MW), and met with both the South Lanarkshire Council team who are involved in the community benefits management, as well as some local community members who engage with the scheme. Community benefits schemes are a biggish topic, so I’ll devote a separate blog post to it in the near future.

What has emerged though is that, whilst people don’t necessarily love the look of wind farms, they tolerate them. There is an understanding that the energy is needed, and the visual impact is part of the price that must be paid. Likewise, the community benefits funds help to improve community acceptance of such projects and, in some cases, actively grow support for them. (Especially in places that may have been impacted badly by the 1970/80 shutdown of the UK’s coal mining industry and now see wind farm benefits as a means to recover economically.)

When in the city, I caught up with a number of faculty from the University of Strathclyde. A number of them are looking at the just energy transition, but from different angles (social, economic, employment) and in addition to giving me excuses to wander through the historical city centre, have helped to further inform and reinforce some of my thinking. I am particularly looking forward to the imminent launch of the Strathclyde Institute for Sustainable Communities, which will address some of the key community issues that I spent time discussing.

Things which will probably get more discussion in future blogs:

  • The role of community identity in the transition
  • The coordination of multiple community benefits schemes in a strategic and just manner
  • The fact that the environmental/climate outcomes are rarely the number one reason for projects, or their support
  • How technologies like CCS and Hydrogen might fit into the mix, given the propensity for them to be viewed as mechanisms to simply prolong the life of the hydrocarbon industry

At some stage I’ll put together a proper ‘Resources’ page on this website, but my discussions identified a range of interesting content, like:

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