The wind of change is unlikely to blow hard through the corridors of power at Wexford County Council next month, when members meet to chart the future direction of wind energy in the Model County.
No aspect of the 2007-2013 County Development Plan is more contentious than the issue of wind farms.
Their backers are keen to make easy profits out of a burgeoning industry that loudly proclaims its Green credentials.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, are the NIMBYS, the Not In My Back Yard brigade, and those who see everyone else’s back yard as their own, who view towering turbines as a blot on the landscape that cause more environmental harm than energy good.
Whatever the various lobby groups say, the county council is constrained by national policy that means however loud the shouting, and there is a lot of it, Wexford is unlikely to chart any course that will lead to it being out of step with the omnipotent Department of the Environment.
‘Basically, what Dick Roche says goes… and the council will keep in step with this, if it doesn’t it will be in trouble,’ said a County Hall source who asked not to be identified.
The CDP is divided between chapters affecting virtually every aspect of life in Wexford, but wind energy is definitely the most controversial, and the most commented on.
‘The rest of the plan is of no consequence compared to the issue of wind farms,’ said Wexford Independent Cllr. Padge Reck.
There is no-one living in the county who will not be affected in some way shape or form, by what is contained in the plan, but the stormiest debates in recent times have all centred around wind and how it is used.
Councillors are torn between lobby groups which say the bar has been raised too high to enable them to build wind farms in areas of marginal wind strengths and those for whom wind farms are anathema.
To some extent, the creation of national guidelines made the planning and control of wind farms easier to manage, so much so that when the county council’s own guidelines were about to be published last year, it was with something of a collective sigh of relief that they were side-lined by Minister Dick Roche’s new rules.
Rosanna Molloy, of the Save Kilbraney Campaign Group, said she wanted to remind everyone of the ‘threat to our precious landscapes and last few wilderness areas, and what big business and the green-eyed monster is trying to do our countryside’.
She said that wind energy had only a negligible input into national electricity grids and rural residents, although no one would dispute that Ireland and Wexford have do what they can to save the planet, even if this makes for unpopular decisions.
This makes it essential that politics are kept out of the wind farm equation and that science and meteorgology will dictate where windfarms are suitable and where they are not.
Once personal sentiments are introduced into the mix, it will be an ill-wind blowing rather than balmy breezes.
Cllr. Reck is among those who fear that the current windspeed thresh-hold of 8.4 is lowered to around 7.8 – as some very powerful groups want – areas currently excluded from windfarm zones will find themselves back in the frame.
Not everywhere in Wexford is suitable for windfarms, there literally isn’t enough wind to make them economically viable in some areas of the county.
Situations like this have created huge problems in parts of Germany where some windfarms located in marginal areas are now being decommissioned.
‘If we make political decisions to placate certain people, we will have a problem of decommissioning further down the line. Are we going to leave rusty, dirty, ugly, defunct turbines all over the landscape?’ said Cllr. Reck.
Mrs. Molloy and her group are fearful that Kilbraney will come back to haunt them.
‘Let’s hope we can hold our ‘no go’ status in Kilbraney and Piercestown.. we will see if local democracy has any role to play and if our contributions are heeded or are we increasingly living in a dictatorship?’ she said, not mincing her words.
Mrs. Molloy is using as ammunition in her latest salvo against wind energy backers, a new U.S. Report which says that while many environmentalists look favourably towards large-scale wind power, it has proven to be ineffective and counter-productive.
The newly-released National Wind Watch report says alarmingly that to generate just five per cent of U.S. energy needs by 2030, almost 10 million acres – most of it rural and wild – would have to be turned over to ‘400-foot-high machines and their motion, noise, and lights.
‘That’s not a green solution, but a huge disaster any way you look at it,’ said National Wind Watch Director Lloyd Crawford.
No-one is suggesting that the Model County will become one giant wind farm, but there are very serious concerns that left unchecked, wind turbines will dot every high horizon, and the problem is getting the balance right.
Over the past few weeks, the vociferous anti-wind farm lobby has been actively submitting dozens of letters to the county council to support their position.
At least 500 submissions have been received during the period of public consultation on the CDP, a significant percentage related to wind farms.
Former council chairman Cllr. Jimmy Curtis believes that pressure groups like the Save Kilbraney protesters have had too much influence in charting wind strategy.
‘I think too much attention was paid to the Kilbraney group, to all their lobbying, and as a result of this I can’t see any changes being made that are sympathetic to wind farming in the county,’ said Cllr. Curtis.
‘There’s no-one there to bring about a change in a wind strategy document that is essentially negative towards wind strategy,’ he said, ‘I think the rules should be relaxed, they should be a lot less restrictive, the national guidelines are a bit more realistic.’
A date for the meeting on the CDP has yet to be set, but officials said it would take place before the end of March.
New Ross Standard
16 March 2007
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