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Will climate change trump tourism in Scotland?

In the battle between those two great forces of nature, Donald Trump and the Scottish wind, you might want to put your money on the one that blows so fiercely and relentlessly. On the other hand, you might want to back the wind.

Mr. Trump was in Scotland this week to protest the installation of wind turbines four kilometres off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in direct sightline of golfers playing the new course he will open in July ($300 for 18 holes, slightly less for locals.) In his usual fashion, Mr. Trump did not conserve his own energy while criticizing the Scottish government's enthusiasm for wind power: "It will be the destruction of Scotland if this madness continues." He then pooh-poohed the idea that climate change was caused by humans, and went on to compare Scotland's commitment to wind farms to its decision to release the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, from prison.

You can perhaps see why Mr. Trump is such a divisive figure in Scotland, where his £750-million luxury resort and golf course just north of Aberdeen has earned him a bucket load of foes and fans alike. Those opposing sides were out in force in Edinburgh to greet Mr. Trump after his testimony before the Scottish parliament's Economy, Energy and Tourism committee. His supporters carried signs that said, "Tourism, not Turbines." His foes banged drums and called the New York real-estate mogul a windbag. A member of a group called WIGS (Wind is Good Scotland) held an orange balloon over Mr. Trump's head so that his famously dense coiffure was drawn, as if by magic, into the air.

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The ballyhoo outside Holyrood – at one point, police had to keep the pro- and anti-wind factions apart – was compelling political theatre, but also indicated just how vitriolic the fight over wind power is becoming in Great Britain. Does a country that sells itself on its unspoiled scenery and majestic castles want to trade that landscape for the promise of renewable electricity? (The UK is committed to getting 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from almost 10 per cent now; Scotland has a much loftier goal of 100 per cent renewable in the next eight years.)

From one end of the UK to the other, there are fights brewing over the placement of wind turbines in historic or picturesque locations. Ironically, some of the most heated battles involve battlefields: There may soon be turbines built at Naseby, where Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army defeated King Charles I's troops in 1645, and the site of the battle of Hyddgen in mid-Wales, where the nationalist hero Owain Glyndwr trounced English forces in 1401.

Apart from Mr. Trump's fight, the highest-profile wind-farm contretemps is happening on "the wild and windy moor" (as Kate Bush sang) where Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw fell in love. A 60-metre high test mast will soon go up near Top Withens, the ruined house set in desolate moorland that inspired Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. The Bronte Parsonage Museum, located in the house where Emily, Charlotte and their siblings grew up, joined the campaign against the mast, which it fears could lead to the construction of four giant wind turbines.

"One of the things that draws people here is the landscape," said Andrew McCarthy, director of the museum, which hosts 80,000 visitors a year. "People do want to go out onto the moors and experience the wilderness that the Brontës knew. The proliferation of wind turbines within that landscape is at odds with that."

By far the biggest tempest is swirling around the east coast of Scotland, 25 km north of Aberdeen, where the Swedish company Vattenfall is leading a multinational coalition to build 11 wind turbines – "monstrosities" and "ugly windmills" in Trump-speak – a few kilometres off the coast.

Mr. Trump is worried that the turbines will spoil the view from the back nine. He has threatened to take his millions and go home if the wind farm goes ahead: That is, he will not proceed with the controversial luxury hotel and housing development that he had promised to build adjacent to the golf course, which opens on July 10. (And Mr. Trump knows how to hold a golf-course grudge: He once sued a town in California where he was building another course, in part because it refused to rename a road "Trump National Drive.")

The real-estate tycoon assumed the air of a seduced and wounded maiden in Edinburgh this week, saying that he had been "lured" to invest in Scotland by its leader, Alex Salmond, who had promised him that there would be no wind farms in the vicinity. ("Utter nonsense," Mr. Salmond responded.)

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"The project is a small one for me, but it's important," Mr. Trump said, after letting slip to members of parliament that his net worth was $7-billion: His resort, where environmentally sensitive dunes were bulldozed to make way for the golf course, is meant to honour his mother Mary Anne MacLeod, who was born on the remote Scottish island of Lewis.

Mr. Salmond would counter that he is merely honouring his promises to voters. The country has one-quarter of Europe's offshore wind potential, which the government claims could lead, eventually, to £30-billion investment in the economy, and as many as 28,000 jobs. But for Mr. Trump, this investment in industry would be offset by a plunge in tourism: "Wind turbines, made in China, are going to be the destruction – almost a total destruction – of your tourism industry," he said. When asked for his evidence, Mr. Trump responded: "I am the evidence. … I am considered a world-class expert in tourism." This caused pro-turbine MPs to pull out a recent poll taken by Visit Scotland, which showed that 80 per cent of people wouldn't avoid visiting a destination just because a wind farm was nearby.

Mr. Trump's allies in the fight against turbines believe he's right about tourism: "All these special places are being destroyed," says Susan Crosthwaite of Communities Against Turbines Scotland. "Everyone wants to go to these places for their holidays to relax, but you can't relax under a wind farm." Ms. Crosthwaite's group also objects to the expense of wind energy (it is partly subsidized with a levy on electricity bills), and the fact that local councils are "bullied" into accepting turbines. She is worried that the approximately 130 wind farms in Scotland will triple in the near future if all planning applications go ahead.

But it appears the wind is blowing in favour of turbines. At a conference on clean energy in London this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a 20-country deal to co-operate on offshore wind generation and carbon capture. It would be "a second renewable energy revolution in the North Sea," he said, and would be a step towards Mr. Cameron's goal of increasing wind power by almost tenfold, to 18 gigawatts, by 2020. Mr. Trump had better hold onto his hat (and hair.)

Elizabeth Renzetti is a member of The Globe and Mail's London bureau.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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