Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wind over St John's Town of Dalry

There was, a few years ago, some controversy in the South West of Scotland, over the location of a wind farm in the region. It was to be placed about five miles East of the small village of St John’s Town of Dalry, which, apart from being judged one of the prettiest villages in the British Isles at one time was where, from about 1900 to 1940 my great grandfather, and then my grandfather worked as the village blacksmith. One of the great concerns, as always, was with the disruption that this would bring to the landscape. Another was the risk to the local bird-life since this is the land of the Golden Eagle, and is where kites have been recently re-introduced and are flourishing.

The last time I came to these parts I helped get one of the site staff get to the site, but she left the car before we got there, so I didn’t know where it was. Today we decided to find it. No problem, right? We knew where the land permits were, we had driven past placarded houses demanding “No Wind Turbines”, so I “knew” where it was. So off we drove. We left the main highway (not that large – this is after all rural Scotland) and drove in the general direction of where I was sure it was, skirting roughly the Eastern boundary of the site. A mile passed, then another, moss appeared in the middle of the road. Had I been fooled, or had the recession killed the project?

Are ye lost?

We drove on, guessing that the cones on top of some of the hills were perhaps the foundations for pylons. And on we drove, and then in an instance, as we rode high up on the moors, in the far distance, appearing suddenly in a gap in the hills, there were about a dozen rotating turbines. (The view was not that good). But the road we were on was remote, and (as you may gather) rarely travelled. So we were sure we could get closer for a better view. The road started to descend, and before we knew where we were we were in the valley that carries the road from Dalry to Moniaive. (This is Burns country and Moniaive was where Annie Laurie lived) It was also where I had thought the Northern boundary of the permitted property was – but I was visibly wrong. (As soon as we had started to descend we had lost site of the turbines). So we turned back along the valley, driving to where there had to be an access road. We did find one, but the driver would not take the car up that gravel road, and so we pressed on. We came to a sign for a road to Lochinvar, which seemed to point in the right direction.

To those of you with a romantic heart, Lochinvar was the young swain who rode out of the West in the Walter Scott poem of the same name. This was that Lochinvar, and the castle to which he brought his damsel (an early version of “The Graduate” in theme). Sadly it was flooded by the local entities that needed a water supply, and so there is naught there now but a rather still and quiet loch as we drove by. But still until we almost reached the loch, no sign of the turbines. But then again, for just a short spell and in the far distance, there were the turning turbines.

View of the turbines.

As you can see they are rather hard to discern, and it is only with an “electronic” zoom that you can make out more details

Zoomed in Closeup of the turbines from above Lochinvar

Too soon, however, we were at the loch, and descending into another valley. And so we drove on, meandering up any road that looked even vaguely drivable (i.e. tarred) in the direction that took us closer to where we thought the turbines were, until we reached the high Cairsphairn road back into Dalry. No more sign of a turbine anywhere.

However, in putting together this post, I did come across the overall plan for the total farm, and what we found was part of the farm, we think either that at Margree or at Wether Hill, which was opened in 2007. Having driven along the future sites for the Blackcraig stage, I am not sure how visible they will be. But with the roads only in the valleys, none of the sites was easily seen.

Location of the Turbines (Glare)

The net conclusion, those who said that the turbines would be invisible were about right. With a concerted effort we only twice, and on remote roads, were able to spot them, and short of driving up the installation road (good gravel, but not quite good enough to risk the car on) inaccessible.

The other thing that is available here, though specifically as I recall from earlier debates, is hydro. In and around Dalry lies the Galloway Hydro-electric Power Scheme. Not the great high dams, but nevertheless productive water barriers that can, on demand, produce power from Clatteringhsaws, Lock Ken and Loch Doon. These supply water to the power stations of Carsfad (12 MW), Drumjohn (2.25 MW), Earlstoun (14 MW) Glenlee (24 MW) Kendoon (24 MW) and Tongland (33 MW). At the moment they are not set to provide backup power to the turbines, but they certainly could.

And so, with respect Jerome, hat tip to your industry, they appear to have well fulfilled the initial promise of inconspicuously providing the power that this part of the country needs (albeit it also has coal, but we won’t go there today). Nowhere near the visibility of the first turbines I saw in the UK, and probably a lot more productive.

UPDATE: With a little more checking (having internet problems again) it turns out that the Blackcraig site is still in development there has been a scoping opinion, and that the map above has the earlier sites misnamed. The site in the middle is actually Cornharrow Hill, which with the Wether Hill site was the eighth operational wind farm in Scotland. The site that they show as Wether Hill is, I believe that of the Windy Standard wind farm.


  1. On the other hand, during your trip to Scotland you could have gone to Stirling.

    For the sake of those who have never been there, Stirling sits on the flat floodplain on the River Forth, with commanding hills on each side of the valley. In the middle of the valley, a crag rises abruptly several hundred feet from the valley floor. On top of this crag stands a tall tower commemorating William Wallace, who was murderously ripped to pieces by the English in the 14th Century for the crime of seeking freedom from tyranny. A very dramatic sight.

    Or used to be. Now the view of the Wallace Monument from several directions has been "changed" (some might say "ruined") by monstrous windmills built on the hillsides around the valley.

    Everything in life involves trade-offs. Fossil fuels involve one set of trade-offs. Wind power involves another set. Personally, I would not feel so bad about the trade-offs involved in wind power if it were not such a Subsidy Slut.

    Once governments lose the ability to borrow money (the coming "Peak Government"), subsidies for so-called renewables will decline or go away. This is already happening in Spain, and is starting to happen even in Germany.

    Then the future visitor to Stirling will be faced with the sight of the Wallace Monument standing in front of rows of rusting windmills. It will be a sad testament to some of the very poor decisions we have made in recent years.