Photograph, Alexander Maris 2009            
Whitelee is Europe’s largest active wind farm, with 140 turbines spread over 20 square miles of moorland plateau and peat bog, embracing Lochgoin Reservoir and Dunwan Dam, the heights of Drumdruff, Corse, Queenseat, Mid Hill and Green Hill. The site is fringed by another dominant influence on the Scottish wilderness landscape, commercial sitka forest.

Set only 9 miles from Glasgow, the turbines can be seen from the pavements of the city they power. Almost uniquely this wind-farm faces 'outwards', in terms of the community, as it has a popular visitor centre and offers various hobby pursuits, such as hiking, cycling and horse riding. The moor is also home to pipits, grouse, skylark and peewit.

Photograph, Alexander Maris 2009

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Photograph, Alexander Maris 2009

The concept of Whitelee defines the vision of a Renewable Scotland that the SNP made such major play on in the parliamentary elections of 2011. Alex Salmond's vision could not be more utopian in its ambition, in terms of energy, although he avoids the stubbornly problematic issues of the ownership of such utilities, and the land they are sited on:

'The move to renewable energy is fundamentally different from the move from wood to coal or coal to oil and gas. That was just moving from one limited form of carbon based energy to another. Renewable energy is different: the wind and the waves will be with us forever. Once we make that shift to renewable energy, there will be no going back. This is a pivotal turning point in human history, on a par with the move from hunter-gathering to settled agricultural communities or the discovery of the New World in 1492. The 19th century Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, George Canning, talking of the liberation of Latin America, said that he had brought a New World into existence to redress the balance of the old. Now we must bring a new economy into existence to redress the balance of the old. And unlike the discovery of the New World of America, this New World of energy will be gained not by force and conquest but by innovation and ingenuity.'

Photograph, Alexander Maris 2009

Photograph, Alexander Maris 2009

The ordinary human activities that take place every day under the towers of Whitelee perform a balancing act of their own. How improbable it would be for any of the dominant power complexes of the carbon age to associate themselves with leisure, access to wild nature, or indeed the encouragement of any form of human activity that isn't immediately productive of monetary value. Scuba diving under an oil platform? Geocaching in a nuclear power plant?

I wonder, were any of the hydro-electric schemes that had such an impact on the Scottish highlands in the 1950s and 1960s allied to land access,  or the creation of trails and rights of way?

Not since the peat-bog or the old hushes has a form of energy production suggested the potential of public access as a given; not that many wind farms currently follow Whitelee in this respect, but it remains clear that they could.

Will any of the multinational investors the SNP are so encouraged to see investing in Scottish renewables commit to this kind of social balance? The entire issue of land ownership and so-called 'wind-crofting' can become progressive forces for social change; equally, wind installations could become another regressive excuse for the exclusion of people from the landscape.

Alexander Maris photographs catch the eerie Tarkovskian atmosphere of the array of white towers, against the bleached bog grasses and dark heather of the moor.

This map is a helpful guide to the site (click to expand). 

Proposal for Whitelee

Alec Finlay, 2011; photograph by Alexander Maris, 2009  


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