Wind Power in the UK (PDF). - Sustainable Development Commission

sd.commission.org.uk

Wind Power in the UK (PDF). - Sustainable Development Commission

6 Landscape and environmentin the immediate vicinity of a wind farmdevelopment, only 12% said that the landscapehad been spoiled.in other countries, gas and oil are obtained fromreserves in onshore locations, where landscapeeffects will be much more pronounced.Essentially, the debate over whether wind farmsare destructive, benign or even positiveadditions to the UK landscape is highlysubjective. The lack of a ‘right’ or fact-basedanswer means that this debate is unlikely everto be resolved, making decisions on individualapplications extremely divisive.However, in order to have an appreciation of theissues involved, it is also important to considerthe energy generating alternatives to windenergy, as all of these also have landscape andenvironmental impacts, many of which aretaken for granted.6.7 Comparing landscape andenvironmental impactsThe impact that electricity generation has on thelandscape and environment depends on thetype of fuel and technology that is used togenerate it – see Table 10 for a summary. Fossilfuels such as gas and coal, and the uraniumrequired for nuclear fission, all rely on extractiveindustries for fuel supply. In the case of coal anduranium, this can have a wide and devastatingeffect on the landscape surrounding the minesite, with the associated infrastructure andwaste production contributing to a landscapeand environmental impact that can last foryears. For UK gas (and oil – although this is aminor contributor to electricity production),extraction is concentrated offshore, and suppliesof liquefied natural gas will arrive by sea.However, some onshore infrastructure will stillbe required to receive, store and distribute thegas and there are a number of environmentalissues associated with offshore exploration. AndAlthough many of the landscape andenvironmental effects of our fuel needs will notbe borne in the UK, a sustainable developmentapproach implies that all effects should beconsidered, wherever they occur in the world. Itwould not be equitable to suggest that landscapedestruction in other countries is justified in orderthat UK landscapes are preserved.For combustion, all conventional power plantsrequire a large land area, and their total visualimpact would include any pylons that arerequired to link them to the national grid. Theland-take for grid connection would applyequally to wind power, although for smallerdevelopment lower voltage pylons are used, andthese tend to have a much lower visual impact.On the environmental side, fossil fuel electricitygeneration will emit greenhouse gases andother pollutants when combusted, whichcontribute to climate change and air pollutionproblems. Coal combustion, with its high sulphurcontent relative to other fossil fuels, also causesacid rain. This particular problem can be solvedby the installation of flue gas de-sulphurisationequipment, but this is costly and many coalplants do not have it fitted. Fossil fuel powerplants (especially coal) will often cause groundpollution problems on the land they inhabit, andmany conventional plants (including nuclear)will also generate heat pollution xxii , affectinglocal rivers or the sea. Electricity generated bynuclear fission adds to background levels ofradiation and the risks and consequences ofserious accidents require rigorous and costlymanagement and operational procedures.xxii Heat pollution is generated through the cooling needs of conventional power plants, which often use water for thispurpose. After this has been cooled to a certain level on-site, warm water is often discharged into rivers or the sea.60 Wind Power in the UK sustainable development commission

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