Scotland Net Zero: Onshore Wind and Peat

Close

Scotland Net Zero: Onshore Wind and Peat

In 2019, the Scottish Parliament voted on updates to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act which included setting a national, binding target of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2045.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has been monitoring Scotland’s progress on reducing emissions, and recently published its October 2020 Progress Report for Reducing Emissions in Scotland. This report reflects on Scotland’s work towards its climate goals in advance of the Scottish Climate Change Plan, which is due to be issued later in 2020. As the CCC notes, Scotland has made good progress on its previous commitments; of particular note is that Scottish Government has fulfilled one of the previous CCC recommendations by committing funding to restoring peatland. Peatlands harbour substantial amounts of carbon and are heavily influenced by climate change.  Scottish peatlands store 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon; the equivalent to 140 years’ worth of Scotland’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Academics have calculated that more than half of the carbon currently stored in Scottish blanket bog is at risk of being lost through climate change, which would substantially hinder efforts to meet our committed climate targets.

It is clear that peatland restoration and our success with this will play a major contributing factor to meeting the national target of Net Zero by 2045.  Building on the advice from the CCC,  the Scottish Government’s 2020-2021 budget commits investment of £250 million over 10 years to deliver 20,000 hectares of peatland restoration a year. This will fund projects led by NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, and our National Park authorities.

Whilst the Scottish Government continues to build on the recommendations from the CCC, there are wider opportunities for peatland restoration.

The CCC report is clear that there continues to be a need for increased renewable energy generation, and in particular onshore wind.  A notable recommendation is that in order to support our efforts for Net Zero, the forthcoming NPF4 should advocate a favourable consenting scheme for onshore wind and other renewables that is consistent with other policies on land use. Land use policies will continue to advocate the protection and restoration of peatlands.

By their very nature, onshore wind farms, whether greenfield or repowering, are located in remote, exposed areas; many of which, particularly in northern Scotland, are or will be located in areas of peatland. Scottish Planning Policy protects carbon rich soils, deep peat and priority peatland habitat, and steers new projects to be located in areas with no or poorer quality peat. Healthy peatlands and well designed, efficient wind farms both make a positive contribution towards climate change, and there is opportunity to do so collaboratively.

The onshore wind industry is filled with fantastic example schemes that have protected and enhanced environmental conditions and peatland restoration can be another good news story.

For this to be achieved, it is crucial that existing peat conditions are identified early and in advance of the wind farm design process.  Where degraded peatlands are apparent and can be restored, the restoration aims should be integral to the design of the wind farm, and brought into consideration from the conceptual design stage. Engaging in an open dialogue with land management as early as possible is also critical to finding the best practical solution for each site.

Measures that can be included within wind farm design to improve degraded peatlands include raising the water table of peat bogs, reparation of bare and exposed peat, and vegetation management.  Peat restoration and enhancement can often be developed in tandem with improving habitats for important and protected ecological species, allowing projects to deliver positive benefits to biodiversity.

Arcus has extensive experience of successfully leading onshore wind projects with peat management and restoration integral to the design, assessment and consenting of these projects.  The Arcus Ecology and Engineering Teams have developed mitigation and enhancement schemes for several onshore wind farms located throughout the UK, and are well placed to support on future projects where peat is a key consideration. To discuss further, please contact the Arcus team via: 0141 221 9997 or info@arcusconsulting.co.uk.

Further information on Scotland’s progress towards net zero and the need to restore our peatlands can be found below:

https://www.gov.scot/news/climate-change-plan-update/

https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Reducing-emissions-in-Scotland-Progress-Report-to-Parliament-FINAL.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-019-01550-3

https://www.nature.scot/climate-change/nature-based-solutions/peatland-action-project