A golden eagle photographed in Scotland. The bird of prey is protected under the U.K.’s Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.
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Plans for an onshore wind farm in Scotland have been revised after a number of concerns, including those related to how the project might affect golden eagles.
If built, the Scoop Hill Community Wind Farm will have 60 turbines instead of the 75 that were originally proposed.
The tip height of four turbines in the development, in Dumfries and Galloway, will also be lowered.
In a project update last week, the firm behind the Scoop Hill Community Wind Farm said revisions to the development had been made after “extensive and iterative discussions” with both the local community and consultees.
“During the consultation period, comments were raised by consultees and local residents, primarily relating to landscape and visual impacts, residential amenity, cultural heritage, dark skies and golden eagles,” Community Windpower said.
The company said it would now submit additional documentation to the Scottish government’s Energy Consents Unit in the spring.
“We have taken on board comments raised by consultees and the local community and have made significant, positive changes to the proposed layout,” said Rebecca Elliott, senior project manager for the Scoop Hill facility.
Elliott added that she looked forward to “discussing the updated proposal with the community in the coming months.”
Golden eagle concerns
The decision to reduce the number of turbines for Scoop Hill follows a period of consultation for the project.
Those responding to the consultation included RSPB Scotland, a charity focused on conservation. In a letter sent to the Energy Consents Unit in Jan. 2021, it voiced its opposition to the plans.
Among other things, the letter expressed unease about the facility’s potential effect on the golden eagle, a bird of prey protected under the U.K.’s Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
“We have significant concerns about the impact that this proposal will have on golden eagle through collision risk, habitat loss, the potential for complete abandonment of a territory and impact on roost sites,” the organization’s letter said.
“Furthermore, we believe that the assessment of such impacts through both construction and operation is incomplete, and as such we object to this application,” it added. “We also have concerns regarding osprey and black grouse.”
The decision to reduce the size of the Scoop Hill project represents the latest example of how concerns about the interaction between wind farms and the natural world can create hurdles for companies looking to build out renewable energy projects.
In Dec. 2022, for example, plans for a major new wind farm in Australia were given the thumbs up on the proviso its turbines went offline for five months a year to protect a parrot species.
Brussels-based industry body WindEurope says the effects of projects can be prevented “by adequately planning, siting, and designing wind farms.”
“The impact of wind farms on birds and bats is extremely low compared to the impact of climate change and other human activity,” it adds.
In a statement sent to CNBC, a spokesperson for RSPB Scotland said it hadn’t had “any direct communication with Community Windpower about golden eagles, only through submitting our response to the windfarm application in January 2021.”
“The Applicant did get in touch in November 2022 to provide an update that further work had been undertaken including proposed changes to the wind farm’s design and layout,” they added.
“However, further information on the details was not provided at that time, so we have not been able to fully consider the changes yet.”
“We understand that full details have not been published of the revised proposals so we do not yet know whether this revision might address our concerns,” the spokesperson went on to state. “We will consider the amended proposal carefully, particularly in relation to golden eagles.”
The spokesperson added that while RSPB Scotland supported renewable energy generation, wind farms “must be carefully sited and designed to avoid unacceptable impacts on species of highest conservation concern.”
“There is some research which suggests that golden eagles will avoid areas where wind farms have been constructed, so they are then displaced from the area,” they added.
The organization was aware of at least three collisions involving golden eagles and wind farms located in Scotland but noted there was “no systematic recording of collisions, so this number could be higher for golden eagles and other species.”
“A key concern in relation to Scoop Hill is likely loss of the available land that golden eagles would have access to where they can forage and find food, which could result in the existing territory being abandoned,” the spokesperson said.
Community Wind Power did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the RSPB’s remarks ahead of this story’s publication.