Re-powering Scotland: Wind farms and the 'energy or environment?' debate

Charles R. Warren, Richard V. Birnie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Energy issues are crucial for Scotland. This paper reviews the environmental, social and political questions surrounding energy and environment in general, and analyses the passionate arguments surrounding onshore wind farm developments in Scotland in particular. Scotland has the best onshore and offshore wind resources in Europe, with almost a quarter of the total resource, and onshore wind is now rapidly overtaking hydropower as the renewable technology with the greatest generating capacity. This development has proved highly controversial, with many schemes attracting vociferous public opposition. This review explores the main issues involved and shows that whilst some of the controversy centres on factual issues such as job creation, intermittency or bird mortality, a primary reason why consensus is so elusive is that conflicting values lie at the core of the debate. Issues such as landscape aesthetics, community (dis)empowerment and the relative importance of global and local factors are perceptual, unquantifiable and shaped by personal world views. Consequently, even if all the misinformation provided by those supporting or opposing wind farms was removed, profound disagreements would remain about the appropriate choices for securing Scotland's future power supply. The paper highlights the need to deepen our understanding of the social construction of public attitudes, to develop better criteria for strategic locational guidance and to investigate the potential of emerging development models such as community-scale wind power schemes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-126
Number of pages30
JournalScottish Geographical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • Environment
  • Renewable energy
  • Scotland
  • Wind power


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