In the south of Scotland, just off the B709 near to the border of Dumfries & Galloway and Borders lies the small village of Eskdalemuir best known for the Eskdalemuir Observatory. Chosen for its remote location and built in 1904 the observatory took over from the Kew Observatory after the advent of electrification in London led to interference with instruments at Kew.
The Eskdalemuir Observatory currently monitors climatological data, solar radiation, atmospheric pollution, geomagnetic fields, and seismological data. There is also a second seismic array approximately 3 km north providing the UK part of the international monitoring system of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which allows covert nuclear tests to be detected via their seismic signatures.
This facility therefore performs an incredibly important function and since the inception of wind farms, due to the nature of how it takes it readings, there has been a 50km Statutory Consultation Zone around the Observatory and a 10km absolute no wind farm zone to negate the chance of the vibrations from any turbine interfering with the instruments and therefore rendering the readings taken, unreliable.
Recently however the Ministry of Defence has withdrawn objections to hundreds of megawatts of proposed wind farms around the facility. The long-standing hurdles were dropped as part of interim guidance published this week by the Scottish government.
The result of this is around 500MW of projects in Scotland and northern England could move towards construction over the next few years. Many others will also benefit in the longer term.
The new policy from Holyrood is based on a Xi Engineering review of the science behind vibrational impacts from installed turbines which interfere with readings from the monitoring station. Under a revision to the formula used by the MoD for many years, all projects in planning before December last year are now free to move towards final determination.
Additional space in the so-called Eskdalemuir noise budget is also available for new projects. However details of how much headroom exists must await a “fully functional IT solution being developed” to implement the new science. A first-come, first-served approach will remain thereafter.
The MoD will as part of the revised guidance extend the absolute wind farm no-go zone around Eskdalemuir from 10km to 15km. This will not impact any currently planned projects.
Even within the Statutory Consultation Zone of 50km successful planning for a wind farm was very difficult and rare. This is despite the local area being a prime example of suitable land for wind farm development with good wind speeds and relative remoteness from residential properties.
As technology continues to advance it is heartening to see it used productively in areas which can benefit us all. Due to the hard work from those at Xi Engineering Scotland now has a changed Renewables Map, altered for the better with the potential for many more megawatts of clean renewable energy.
Both Scotland’s economy and population will benefit from this technological advancement and that is a good thing.