WIND FARM projects in the Highlands and Islands are about to be scaled down in size, according to a leading independent environmental consultant.
Chartered Environmentalist Duncan Oswald of consultants Ecodyn claims the region was set to follow the Scandinavian model of ‘smaller scale’ windprojects as consumers protect themselves against rising energy prices and mortgages.
He made the prediction after assessing the impact that falling government incentives are having on the wind industry in the North.
He said Scotland was about to enter a new renewables age, with the UK government slowly closing Feed-In Tariff incentives for onshore windprojects.
Since 2010, many Highland and Island communities have gained from erecting turbines and selling excess electricity to the grid for profit under the Feed-In Tariff scheme.
However, that cash return is set to fall by 10 per cent in October following a 20 per cent drop in April - and experts are predicting a further fall in April 2015.
Mr Oswald, the founder of Ecodyn, a company which has led community and co-operative wind projects from the Western Isles to Alness, said: “The economic arguments for people converting to wind are still there, but they have shifted in emphasis.
“The incentive to put up the larger turbines and make money by exporting to the grid isn’t so compelling as before.
“What we are finding instead is that people are coming to us fearful of what’s happening with the big 6 energy supply companies and energy prices going up.
“They may also be worrying about higher monthly mortgage costs when the Bank of England increases interest rates so they are exploring options for small turbines for their own use.
“If people are just looking to use the energy in their own homes and communities rather than exporting, this is where the cost benefits are still strong so it is in this area that we predict most growth in the highlands and islands, which is good for the environment and local jobs.”
The onshore wind industry accounts for 3,397 posts in Scotland with a significant proportion in the Highlands.
Despite fears of a slow-down and controversy over many wind farm applications, Mr Oswald feels more people in the north and isles now have an enlightened view of wind energy.
He added: “What we find is that people accept the bigger projects as necessary, in many ways, but this energy is not supporting local communities.
“The smaller scale projects tend to be supported more readily. If people have big old farmhouses and oil prices keep going up, they are naturally going to start looking at smaller turbines to heat and run the house.
“After 20 years, the technology is more reliable. I think people are doing it for themselves, for the right reasons, rather than being driven by the government hand-outs.”