Public inquiry on Whinash wind farm: SGR response

Written Evidence in support of the application by Dr Stuart Parkinson, SGR; 18 April 2005


1.      I, Dr Stuart Parkinson, am giving evidence on behalf of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), a UK-based organisation whose aim is ‘to promote ethical science and technology’.

 2.      Climate change due to human emissions of greenhouse gases (mainly from fossil fuel combustion) is one of the most serious threats facing human society. The scientific evidence for this threat is overwhelming and the need for action to tackle it is urgent. The UK government’s response has been to put in place a number of policies which include the expansion of renewable energy generation, including wind farms. Onshore wind energy is currently the most favoured renewable energy source because the UK has such a high resource, the cost is low, and it does not face as many obstacles as other renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. The alternative option of nuclear power also has serious drawbacks, including its economics, and problems relating to the disposal of radioactive waste, possible terrorist threats, and connections to nuclear weapons.

3.      The proposed site at Whinash has a very good wind resource and has already been impacted significantly by human activity – not least the presence of the M6. If sites such as this are rejected, it will be a major blow to wind energy development in this country and to efforts to tackle climate change.

4.      On behalf of SGR, I therefore request that consent is given for this wind farm.


5.      I, Dr Stuart Parkinson, am currently Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR). I have held this post for the past two years. I have worked on climate and energy issues for the last 15 years, publishing numerous scientific papers during my time at Lancaster and Surrey Universities. I was an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001-02) and have co-authored a book on climate policy. I hold a Bachelors degree in physics and engineering and a Doctoral degree in climate science. I live in Lancaster and am a regular walker in Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

6.      I am giving evidence on behalf of SGR, a UK-based organisation whose aim is ‘to promote ethical science and technology’, which we define as contributing to peace, social justice and environmental sustainability. SGR was formed in 1992 and its membership consists of 600 scientists and technologists.

Policy (energy)

7.      In order to tackle the global threat of climate change, the UK is subject to targets for reducing its emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for the problem. The UK has an internationally agreed legally-binding target of a reduction of 12.5% by 2008-12 (relative to 1990 levels) and a domestic voluntary target of 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 (relative to 1990). On the basis of these the UK has set targets for the expansion of energy from renewable sources (which do not emit carbon dioxide), in particular for electricity generation from such sources. The targets are 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, 15% by 2015, and an ‘aspirational’ target of 20% by 2020.

8.      Local policy concerning support for renewable energy, including wind farms, are given in the submission by South Lakeland Friends of the Earth and so will not be repeated here.

Need (climate change)

9.      Climate change due to human emissions of greenhouse gases (mainly from fossil fuel combustion) is one of the most serious threats facing human society this century. The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world’s foremost scientific body examining this issue – have highlighted not only that ‘there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities’, but also that continuing along our present path will lead to warming ‘very likely to be without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years’ (IPCC, 2001). The consequences of such a rapid change will be extremely severe on a global scale, causing suffering to billions. The World Health Organisation recently estimated that globally 150,000 extra deaths have already been caused by climate change in the year 2000 alone (McMichael et al, 2003). The most recent comprehensive assessment of the threat of climate change came at the international “Stabilisation 2005” conference in February 2005, which concluded that the evidence had strengthened since the 2001 IPCC report, and that:

‘In many cases the risks are more serious than previously thought’.It highlighted that ‘even a delay of 5 years [in taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions] could be significant’ (Stabilisation, 2005).

10.  Some opponents of wind farms have sought to argue that the evidence for climate change is not robust and that many climate scientists are sceptical about the nature of the problem. This is simply not true. Over 1000 natural scientists contributed to the 2001 IPCC report mentioned above. Furthermore, an analysis of all 928 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between 1993 and 2003 showed ‘overwhelming agreement’ on the reality of the problem (Orekes, 2004). In truth the vast majority of those disputing the science of climate change are not climate scientists and many are connected with the fossil fuel industry (see eg Pearce, 2005).

Need (wind power and alternatives)

11.  As mentioned above, one of the main ways the UK government is tackling climate change is through the expansion of renewable energy sources for electricity generation. At present, wind energy, because of the size of the resource (the UK has the largest wind energy resource in Europe) and its competitive cost, is widely considered to be main way of meeting this target. Other renewable sources are either limited by resource (eg landfill gas), much more expensive (eg solar photovoltaic) or still in development (eg wave, tidal) (DTI & Carbon Trust, 2004). The government estimates that meeting the 10% renewable energy target will reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 9 million tonnes per year.

12.  The UK government has been in the forefront of international efforts to promote strong action on climate change, for example by playing a critical role in the successful negotiations on the climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol. However, progress on reducing the UK’s own greenhouse gas emissions is faltering, not least because of the slower than intended progress on deploying renewable energy in the UK. Part of the reason for this is a significant (but minority) public opposition to wind farms. Given the need for the UK to continue to show international leadership on this issue (as well as the urgency of the issue and lower cost of wind as mentioned above), it is important that expansion of wind energy continues rapidly. This means that it is critical that proposals for wind farms in areas with a good wind resource and which have already been significantly impacted by human activity – such as Whinash (see below) – are accepted.

13.  Opponents of wind energy have criticised the subsidies that it currently receives, which mainly come through the government’s ‘Renewables Obligation’ (RO). However, it is important to see these subsidies in their true light. Firstly (and obviously), there is the urgency in meeting the renewable energy targets and tackling climate change. Secondly, these subsidies are not just available to onshore wind energy but also to several other renewable energy technologies. Thirdly, such temporary subsidies are necessary in the early stages of commercialisation of many new technologies which are trying to break into a new market. Indeed, it is useful to recall that other energy technologies also received large public subsidies in their early days and, furthermore, the UK’s newer nuclear power plants were only able to be privatised once the costs of construction and decommissioning were written off, demonstrating that they are not commercially viable even 50 years after the first UK plant was commissioned. The major financial difficulties of the nuclear industry continue today.

14.  Opponents of wind energy have also argued that energy efficiency measures would be a cheaper way of reducing emissions. However, there are many non-monetary obstacles to the rapid expansion of energy efficiency measures, eg lack of public knowledge/ understanding of the need to install energy efficiency technologies in the home, which take time to deal with.

15.  Some opponents of wind farms argue that nuclear power is a better alternative. Apart from the economic problems that have dogged the industry over its entire history, and the problems of long-term disposal of radioactive waste which is the subject of ongoing government deliberations, there are three concerns I would like to highlight here. The first is that a terrorist attack on a nuclear facility could release large amounts of highly radioactive material into the air, creating a massive human health and environmental problem (Barnaby, 2003). Although very unlikely, even a very small risk is not acceptable. The second concern is the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Nuclear power technology and expertise can be diverted for military use. Renewing or expanding nuclear power plants increases the resources which could be redeployed (both legally and illegally) to produce such weapons. Finally, the sites of nuclear facilities cannot be restored to their original condition when the plant closes. In contrast, should the power from a wind farm no longer be needed (due to, for example, alternatives resources becoming available or a large reduction in energy demand), they can be dismantled and the land returned to its original state very swiftly.

Impact (local)

16.  The main argument put forward by those opposing the Whinash wind farm is that it would detrimentally impact on the beauty of the area. However, it should be recognised that the area has already seen significant development. A large number of pylons cross the landscape, while tall telecommunications masks are also clearly visible. Furthermore, major roads – the M6 and A6 – run very close to the site for the wind farm, causing significant levels of noise, local air pollution and visual intrusion. The site cannot be said to pristine. Concerns that the landscape impact of the wind farm may put off some tourists, need to be set against the fact that wind farms often enhance tourism (DTI, 2005). Furthermore, siting the wind farm near major roads can serve as a reminder to car drivers of the need to reduce their own carbon dioxide emissions (currently one of the greatest sources in the UK).

17.  The proposal for the wind farm at Whinash also includes a land management plan to enhance the degraded ecology of the site, thus there are likely to be significant local benefits. It is noteworthy that both English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are not objecting to this application.

Concluding comments

18.  Climate change is an extremely serious problem threatening human society and natural ecosystems – including those in North West England – and tackling it is urgent. Renewable energy and especially wind farms are essential in dealing with the problem at the current time. Rejecting the large wind farm at Whinash could potentially set a precedent which undermines wind energy development across the UK. This would this jeopardise the UK meeting its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and send a negative message worldwide.

19.  On behalf of Scientists for Global Responsibility, I therefore urge the Inspector to recommend to the Department of Trade and Industry that the Whinash wind farm be consented and built.


Barnaby F. (2003) How to build a nuclear bomb and other weapons of mass destruction.GrantaBooks.

DTI & Carbon Trust (2004) RenewablesInnovation Review. Department of Trade and Industry.

DTI (2005) Wind power: 10 myths explained. (accessed 17/04/05)

IPCC (2001) Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. CambridgeUniversityPress.

McMichael, A.J., Campbell-Lendrum, D.H, Corvalán, C.F., Ebi, K.L., et al. (2003) Climate Change and Human Health: Risks and Responses. World Health Organisation.

OrekesN. (2004) Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science, vol 306, p1686.

Pearce F. (2005) Climate Change: menace or myth? New Scientist, 12th February.  p38.

Stabilisation (2005).International symposium on the stabilisation of greenhouse gases. Report of the Steering Committee. Hadley Centre, Met Office, Exeter, UK. 1-3 February

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