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By a Newsnet reporter
A public attack on Scotland's offshore wind energy sector by Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson has been condemned as "disgraceful", and has sparked calls for the Prime Minister to clarify his party's position.
Mr Stevenson is a member of the European Parliament's Environment Committee and President of the Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development Intergroup of more than 200 MEPs.
Speaking at a meeting organised by Communities Against Turbines Scotland (CATS) in Girvan on Thursday, the Tory MEP urged participants to resist the industrialisation of Scotland's seascape, describing the environmental and financial consequences incurred by the development of offshore wind projects as "walking the plank to disaster", and claimed it placed local industry at risk whilst making a negligible impact on emissions targets.
Addressing the meeting, Mr Stevenson said: "An estimated 55% of carbon in the atmosphere that becomes bound or 'sequestered' in natural systems is cycled into the seas and oceans and stored in seagrass meadows and kelp forests, so-called 'blue carbon' vegetation, in waters up to 20 metres deep, most of which in Europe are to be found around Scotland's coasts.
"Destroying these precious ecosystems to build massive offshore turbines or wave and tidal systems will simply release millions of tonnes of stored CO2 into the atmosphere."
In fact, most studies show that the great majority of the carbon which is naturally cycled into the oceans is eventually transferred to the deep ocean where it becomes trapped in chemical structures which form from the combination of water and CO2 under the immense pressures of the ocean depths. According to the US Dept of Energy, this is the eventual fate of 80-90% of carbon captured naturally by the oceans.
Studies have also found that the environmental impact of off-shore wind farms upon marine ecology is very limited. In fact the construction of wind tower bases in shallow seas provides a new habitat for marine plants and animals. A study conducted in Denmark found that the diversity and abundance of marine plants and animals actually increased after the construction of an off shore wind farm.
Similar findings were reported by a Dutch study, which reported that offshore wind farms have a beneficial long-term effect on wildlife. The report detailed how wind farms function as a new type of habitat, attracting new species to the turbine foundations and surrounding rocks.
As the wind farm area is avoided by industrial fishing fleets, the area acts as a refuge for schools of cod and other fish. Perhaps surprisingly, given the concerns about the noise which the wind farms may create, the Dutch study also found that marine mammals like seals, porpoises and dolphins increased in number in the area of the wind farm.
Scotland is home to 25% of Europe's offshore wind and tidal power potential and 10% of Europe's wave power potential, giving the offshore renewables sector huge potential for growth. Around 35% of Scotland's electricity came from renewables in 2011, exceeding the Scottish Government’s target of 31%.
In the same year, Scotland contributed almost 40% of the UK's renewables. Currently the industry provides over 11,000 full time jobs in Scotland, a number which is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years as renewable energy technologies develop.
However Scottish jobs may be threatened if the UK Government backtracks on the Conservatives' pre-election promise to be "the greenest government ever". In 2011 the UK Government announced it was slashing the subsidies received by renewable energy suppliers and developers.
Mr Stevenson's potentially damaging remarks reflect the strength of the anti-renewables lobby, which has a strong influence amongst sections of the Conservative party. Many Tory MPs are urging UK Goverment ministers to reduce support for wind power projects, saying costs are too great.
SNP MSP John Wilson has written to Prime Minister David Cameron calling on him to clarify his party's position on renewables following Struan Stevenson's outburst. Mr Wilson is the Deputy Convener of Holyrood's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.
"This is a disgraceful attack on jobs and investment by the Tories. Scotland has massive renewables potential with about a quarter of Europe's offshore wind and tidal power and a tenth of its wave power.
"That natural windfall is delivering much needed jobs and investment to communities the length and breadth of Scotland and the UK. Not content with the appalling damage they are doing to the economy, the Tories apparently now want to scrap renewables jobs too.
"This is the fastest growing industry providing a much needed economic boost and jobs to communities. The UK Government’s own figures show that a green energy will help reduce energy bills as opposed to a business as usual approach by the Tories.
"With our natural competitive advantage we should all be getting behind the renewables industry rather than launching ill thought attacks on this clean, green and reliable source of energy.
"Our huge natural resource as well as Scotland's historic legacy in the energy industry, Scotland is well placed to thrive in delivering safe and secure clean, green energy across these islands.
"It is bad enough that Tory cuts are hitting our communities and holding back recovery without an attack on this economic success story."