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Special Investigation: Toxic wind turbines

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Part Two of The Sunday Post’s hard-hitting probe into the true impact of wind farms.

Damning evidence of wind farms polluting the Scottish countryside can today be revealed by The Sunday Post.

Scotland’s environmental watchdog has probed more than 100 incidents involving turbines in just six years, including diesel spills, dirty rivers, blocked drains and excessive noise.

Alarmingly, they also include the contamination of drinking water and the indiscriminate dumping of waste, with warning notices issued to a handful of energy giants.

The revelations come just a week after our investigation showed

£1.8 billion in Government subsidies have been awarded to operators to build turbines since Alex Salmond took office in 2007.

Anti-wind farm campaigners yesterday insisted Scotland’s communities are now “under siege” and demanded an independent inquiry into the environmental damage.

Murdo Fraser MSP, convener of Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, said: “I am both surprised and concerned by the scale of these incidents.

“The fact there were more than 100 complaints is a dismal record.

“This should serve as a wake-up call that wind energy is not as clean and green as is being suggested.”

He added: “What’s worse is that the current Scottish Government seems to have an obsession about wind power and the expansion in the number of turbines shows no signs of relenting any time soon.”

Promotion of green energy, particularly the growth of onshore and off-shore wind farms, has been one of the SNP’s key policies since 2007.

The Scottish Government’s target is to generate the equivalent of 100% of the country’s electricity consumption, and 11% of heat demand, from renewables by 2020.

In recent years, ministers have invested heavily in the sector, insisting Scotland has a quarter of all of Europe’s wind energy potential.

But wind power is becoming increasingly unpopular, with giant turbines now scattered across much of the Scottish countryside.

There are now 219 operational wind farms in Scotland, with at least 2,400 turbines between them.

Moray has the most sites, with 20 in operation, while Orkney has the most turbines, with 600 across the archipelago, although the majority are owned by farmers and other individuals.

Now, we can reveal the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has investigated 130 ‘pollution reports’ connected to wind farms or turbines over the past six years. In June 2012, elevated levels of the banned insecticide Dieldrin were found in samples from a private drinking water supply in Aberdeenshire.

A redacted SEPA report, obtained under Freedom of Information, states: “It was noted a wind turbine had recently been erected by the nearby farmer.”

Run-off from the construction of a wind farm near Loch Fyne in February 2012 caused concern that fish had stopped feeding, with SEPA officers discovering a burn was “running brown” and that “a noticeable slick on Loch Fyne was visible”.

In another incident in November 2011, 1,000 litres of oil leaked from a turbine at the Clyde wind farm in Abington, Lanarkshire, resulting in an emergency clean-up operation.

Warning letters have been sent by the environment agency to a number of operators, including Siemens, after another fuel spill at the same 152-turbine site four months later.

A report on that incident states: “Siemensmaintained it was under control. Howeveroperators who then visited the area did not see any action being taken and fuel ponding at the base of the generator”.

A warning was issued to Scottish and Southern Energy in February 2011 after the Tombane burn, near the Griffin wind farm in Perthshire, turned yellow as a result of poor drainage.

The same firm was sent another letter in June that year after SEPA found high levels of silt in a burn near a wind farm in Elvanfoot, Lanarkshire.

Officers also then discovered “significant damage” to 50 metres of land and found “the entire area had been stripped of vegetation” as a result of unauthorised work to divert water.

Other incidents investigated since 2007 include odours, excessive noise from turbines and heavy goods vehicles and the indiscriminate dumping of waste and soil.

Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity that publishes data on the energy sector, said: “The new information from SEPA deepens concerns about the corrupting effect of overly generous subsidies to wind power.

“Many will wonder whether wind companies are just too busy counting their money to take proper care of the environment.”

Linda Holt, spokeswoman for action group Scotland Against Spin, said: “A lot of environmentalists actually oppose wind farms for reasons like this. If you go to wind farms they are odd, eerie, places that drive away wildlife, never mind people.

“The idea they are environmentally-friendly is not true they can be hostile. We have always suspected they can do great harm to the landscape and now we have proof.”

Officials at SEPA stressed not all 130 complaints were found to be a direct result of wind farms, with some caused by “agricultural and human activities” near sites and others still unsubstantiated.

A spokesman added: “While a number of these complaints have been in connection with individual wind farms these are generally during the construction phase of the development and relate to instances of increased silt in watercourses as a result of run-off from the site.

“SEPA, alongside partner organisations, continues to actively engage with the renewable energy industry to ensure best practice is followed and measures put in place to mitigate against any impact on the local water environment.”

Joss Blamire, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, insisted the “biggest threat” to the countryside is climate change and not wind farms.

He added: “Onshore wind projects are subject to rigorous environmental assessments. We work closely with groups, including SEPA, the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure the highest conservation and biodiversity standards are met.”

The revelations come just months after evidence emerged of contamination in the water supply to homes in the shadow of Europe’s largest wind farm.

People living near Whitelee, which has 215 turbines, complained of severe vomiting and diarrhoea with water samples showing high readings of

E. Coli and other coliform bacteria.

Tests carried out between May 2010 and April last year by local resident Dr Rachel Connor, a retired clinical radiologist, showed only three out of 36 samples met acceptable standards.

Operators ScottishPower denied causing the pollution, but admitted not warning anyone that drinking water from 10 homes in Ayrshire was, at times, grossly contaminated.

Dr Connor said: “I would expect this likely contamination of drinking water must be happening all over Scotland.

“If there is not an actual cover-up, then there is probably complacency to the point of negligence by developers and statutory authorities.”