The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 sets a target to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. In addition, the Scottish Government has set a target for 100% of Scotland’s demand for electricity to be met from renewable sources by 2020.

Scottish Government commissioned ClimateXChange to assess the effectiveness of greenhouse gas emission reduction policies in Local Development Plans (LDPs) in promoting the uptake of Low and Zero-Carbon Generating Technologies (LZCGT).

14 Local Authorities have adopted specific Section 3F policies in their Local Development Plans since 2012. Five of these authorities implemented the policies early enough to be in a position to provide sufficient data sets for the analysis in this study.

Unconventional gas is a growing industry worldwide and there is interest in developing the industry (particularly coal bed methane and shale gas) in Scotland. However, the potential climate impacts associated with the exploration and extraction of unconventional gas in Scotland have been unclear.

Given the Scottish Government’s ambitions for a low carbon economy, it is important to understand the potential GHG emissions associated with unconventional gas extraction, and  what could be done to mitigate or reduce the risk of any such emissions.

SEPA and the Scottish Government asked ClimateXChange to undertake a desk-based study of the estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the extraction of onshore unconventional gas in Scotland, from exploration to the point of fuel production.

This study finds that the key factors influencing the lifecycle emissions of unconventional gas extraction in Scotland are:

  • Methane that could escape when the borehole is being prepared for gas production, or servicing a borehole during production.
  • The impact of building associated infrastructure (such as drilling platforms, pipelines and roads) in areas with peat soil. This is because peat soil holds carbon which will be released when the soil is removed or drained when preparing the land for being built on.
  • Fugitive methane emissions that escape from valves and pipes, which are difficult to capture.

The study concludes that the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy from unconventional gas extraction in Scotland are likely to be equivalent to those of conventional gas extraction in Europe, if best practice is followed and building on peat is avoided.

Scottish Planning Policy is a material consideration which helps planning authorities shape development plans and make decisions on wind farm developments. The potential visual impact of wind farms is an important factor in plan-making and in these decisions. In order to minimise the visual impact of wind farms, the current Scottish Planning Policy (2010) recommends that planning authorities apply a 2km separation distance between potential sites for onshore wind farms above 20MW and the edge of cities, towns and villages. The 2km separation has in general been well received by planning authorities, communities and developers but there is a lack of clarity about the evidence base for setting this specific distance.

ClimateXChange was asked by the Scottish Government to examine the evidence base for the separation distance. The project reviewed a wide range of relevant sources from over 15 countries. It found that most separation distances have been set based on noise, shadow flicker or health considerations, with none specifically relating to visual impacts. The study found no direct link between the evidence and the policy for a 2km separation distance.

 The size of onshore wind turbines has been increasing and is expected to increase in coming years. This study therefore also looked at whether there is evidence to support an increase in the 2km distance to reflect this trend. It found that, even in the few cases where visual impact had been a key consideration for setting separation distances, no reference had been made to turbine heights.

After reviewing UK and international literature on the use of separation distances for onshore wind farms, the study discusses ways that planning policy might be revised, for example:

–          by articulating a clear understanding of the impact of the current 2km distance (positive and/or negative);

–          by finding ways to improve engagement with stakeholders, and ways to better understand the subjective aspects of how people perceive the visual impact of wind turbines;

–          by expanding the descriptions of the criteria that planning authorities should consider in identifying different zones (Para 190 in the current SPP).