DESPITE the approval of a licence for the Rosebank oil and gas field, most of us accept that we need to quit spending lots of money to dig up safely stored carbon, in order to pay fossil fuel multinationals (who somehow qualify for a tax break) for the privilege of releasing it into the atmosphere.

A satisfyingly diverse range of experts have suggested that not only is the idea terrible for the climate emergency, it also won’t offer energy security or help with the cost of living crisis.

Conversely, wind power is free, abundant and substantially cleaner than burning dead dinosaurs. Yet some people have really big feelings about wind power. Not least Donald Trump who recently asserted that turbines make whales “a little batty”.

Call me contrary, but if Trump’s anti, it’s something I’m usually into. But while on paper, wind power sounds like a no-brainer, regrettably it’s more complex than that.

READ MORE: Storm Babet floods in Brechin were always going to happen

Bonny, bonny Swiss bank accounts “Big Wind” is no less ugly than the oil and gas companies. Breakish Wind Farm Action Group is opposing an attempt to build a sizeable wind farm on important Skye peatland and said: “This is old Scotland – it’s about land and money.”

Much of the island is Class 1 peatland (top drawer stuff). Skye’s first wind farm at Ben Aketil, built by Italian firm Renantis, became operational in 2009. Skye’s first turbines were wee, at 100 metres tall.

Renantis, among others, is now seeking to install 200m whoppers facilitated by the neat yet inexplicable euphemism “repowering” – which basically means you can quietly put a turbine up that is double the size of the original. Let me help you quantify that: the Queensferry Crossing towers are 210m tall – 200m is bloody massive, even next to a Munro.

The National: A single farm wind turbine

If the current applications proceed, it will increase the number of turbines on the island from 28 to 149, and of the 11 projects, only four are owned by companies that are even faintly Scottish.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to repeat what happened in the past, where huge multinationals and their investors make off with Scotland’s resources? Especially as Skye residents pay some of the highest electricity rates in the UK.

Additionally, a huge selling point for wind power is its ecologically friendly credentials – it’s supposed to be helping us save the Earth. As with all things though, nothing is ever simple, and wind turbines need to be sited in such a way, especially on Skye, so as not to interfere with peatland.

Indeed, the John Muir Trust (JMT) suggests that policymakers and the Scottish Government may not appreciate “the consequences that a continuously expanding renewables industry would have on Scotland’s landscapes, biodiversity and wild places”.

For peat’s sake

Peat is a fine thing. Firstly, it makes whisky taste amazing but even more impressively, Scottish peatland stores approximately 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon.

The great thing about peat is how it functions best, as both a carbon sink and a hotbed for biodiversity, if you leave it alone. It merrily sits there sequestering carbon, being awesome.

READ MORE: Everyone wins when gender bias is tackled

But in 2022, the UK Climate Change Committee Report found that 80% of Scotland’s peatlands are degraded – emitting rather than storing carbon. Sorry to be pragmatic, but decarbonising the energy system by releasing more carbon from peatland stores seems daft, and reinforces the notion that multinationals may be putting profit before principles (gasp) again.

Standing downwind

Meanwhile, a 2021 report from experiments undertaken at the University of Strathclyde on a 120m wing diameter turbine estimated (using mathematics, not just pulling numbers out of their backsides) that each turbine can emit up to 62kg of microplastics per year.

They took pains to explain that the mass loss of microplastics is exponential, so the bigger the turbine, the more microplastics in your baby’s placenta. The chemical BPA is only a component of the epoxy which the blades are made from but we do know that the fewer toxic, hormone-disrupting plastic particles we have in us and the environment, the better.

Putting them offshore also doesn’t help as salinity (so, the seas) worsens the leading edge erosion (by 40%-50%) and has the potential to deliver microplastics into the ocean faster than me flushing a wet wipe.

Can’t we compromise?

Smaller, community-owned turbines to power local communities – I think people could make their peace with that. Smaller-scale projects are, frankly, nicer and naturally have smaller impacts on the surrounding landscape.

When things are run by local people, for local people, they try to do right by the community (and perhaps fear reprisals from their neighbours should they cock it up).

Additionally, there is somewhere else where we could site the turbines, which doesn’t disrupt peatland or imperil migrating birds: along transport corridors where we already have heaps of infrastructure and we’ve wiped out most of the nature anyway.

Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework explicitly gives equal weighting to the climate emergency and the nature emergency – which means any new renewable energy sources probably shouldn’t trample all over biodiverse peatland in the rush to build new infrastructure.

READ MORE: Philippa Whitford: My time at the Al-Ahli hospital whose bombing shocked the world

We also shouldn’t underestimate the value of places that are (at present) relatively untouched by human hands. Just in case we ever need to put our planet on the market, it would be nice if there were some places that didn’t have “homo sapiens woz ere” scrawled all over it.

The JMT has said: “Large-scale renewable energy development ... tends to target sites in the UK’s wild remote, upland areas.”

These areas often have less political clout but are of significant cultural importance to the people who live there. To be clear, these are not Nimby, monied sorts but ordinary people seeking to protect the places they love.

And we probably shouldn’t steamroll them in The Clearances: Part Two in order to serve the needs of a society that ought to be embarrassed about the last round.

We absolutely need to decarbonise our energy system, but we do need to do so without jumping out of the oil industry’s frying pan into yet another multinational’s fire.

Scotland’s goal must be to decarbonise electricity – not to facilitate profit from decarbonisation – and do it in a way that doesn’t cause a different set of ecological or cultural harms.