A new study from Aberdeen University has put the spotlight on the cost of excluding wind farms from the most scenic areas of the UK.
It shows that keeping wind developments out of 10% of the most picturesque sites in Britain means 18% less renewable electricity generation potential and up to 26% higher costs for operators.
The project, led by professor Russell McKenna of the university’s School of Engineering, used data from the “Scenic or Not” website, where users rate pictures of sites across the country on their scenic value.
It is the first time that data has been used at a national scale to judge how the beauty of the environment impacts wind farm developments, with north-east Scotland being no stranger to opposition to such projects.
Prior to becoming US president, Donald Trump engaged in a war of words, which led to a Supreme Court battle, over plans for the Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm.
Mr Trump described the Vattenfall project as “ugly” and argued that opposing the “horrendous looking, noisy and inefficient structures” was “for the benefit of Scotland”.
The 11-turbine windfarm started up off the Aberdeen coast in 2018 and the following year Mr Trump was forced to pay the Scottish Government’s legal costs over the court battle.
Professor McKenna believes the Aberdeen University research will help policymakers balance the trade-off between public acceptance of wind projects in scenic areas and the price of fighting climate change.
He said: “Compromises are required at all levels to achieve the energy transition. To effectively address these compromises, policy needs to incentivise investments in onshore wind that consider both cost and landscape as quality criteria.
“Previously, the beauty of our environment has proven very challenging to quantify at scale due to a lack of appropriate data. This study plugs that gap by drawing on more than a million ratings of more than 200,000 photographs and feeding the data into a model of onshore wind generation.”
Professor McKenna worked alongside academics from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark on the study, which has been published in the scientific journal Nature Energy.
Earlier this week Aberdeen University officially opened its Centre for Energy Transition, whose mission is to “bring the power of interdisciplinary research to bear” on the climate crisis.
Professor George Boyne, university vice principal and chancellor, said the centre would “think deeply and act quickly” to support the transition.