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Seanad speech on wind turbines bill

I want to welcome you Minister into the House to hear our views on the proposed introduction of legislation for wind turbines. This is an issue which has concerned both my Labour colleagues and myself such that we felt strongly about rectifying the current situation. I want to commend them for showing unequivocal foresight on the issue and unanimity with regard to progressing this matter.

Minister as we all well know the erection of wind turbines is a very cost effective way of generating electricity in Irish households. Wind is free, and there is lots of it in Ireland, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation of a turbine electricity costs are significantly reduced. Not only that, there is the potential for proprietors of these turbines to export any excess electricity to their local grid – and get paid for that too. However, as I understand it Ireland is somewhat behind in terms of capitalising on this and we need to rectify this situation as soon as possible.

However, there are negative attributes relating to wind turbines and this is why we feel as a group that it is necessary to further regulate them. The noise and sound of the blades rotating can be akin to the thudding of base notes from loud music or the sound of a helicopter at a distance and a group of turbines rotating together can expectedly produce sounds of greater effect when they synchronise. There is no doubt that residents in the surrounding area can be disturbed and distressed by such. So far and without targeted regulation there has been no success in reducing this noise, which can continue largely unabated day and night for extended periods and can sometimes travel several miles. There is now a well-established body of evidence, collected worldwide, that demonstrates the harmful effect of turbines for at least some of those who live close to them. In the UK complaints are made continuously to the environmental health officers of local authorities such that in February 2009 the Renewable Energy Foundation produced a roll of 27 out of 133 wind farms in the United Kingdom which had given rise to noise complaints. This number subsequently rose to 46 out of 217 wind farms by April 2010, with 285 complaints having been recorded in total. This must be of concern to us given that there are also recognised health problems arising from such for example pulse irregularity and sleep disturbance.

But not only do the erection of wind turbines or wind farms affect peoples health but they also affect the geograpahy of an area and its flora and fauna. We only have to look at the situation in Derrybrien in County Galway where there was a landslide in 2008 as a result of a failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment prior to granting permission for wind farms. 450,000 cubic meters of peat became dislodged over a 32km area and this led to the pollution of a river thus killing 50,000 fish. At the very least we need to legislate for this finding by the European Courts so a disaster of this magnitude will never affect any part of this country again.

However, while we stand here today and discuss and debate the regulation of wind turbines we must be mindful that debate over government regulations should be more broad based and focus more on engineering issues and robust scientific evidence and less on politics. We must call for more research into Aerodynamic Modulation (AM) – the ‘swishing’ noise made by turbine blades. Currently the causes and treatment of the problem need further research. These turbines are designed in all shapes and sizes and we must take this into account when framing legislation.

We must also go further than the current Bill and look at the situation in Scotland whereby it is not permissible for anyone to erect a wind turbine farm within 2 km of the edge of cities, towns, and villages. We should look at this as being a standard bearer for all our wind-farm developments. It is essential that we retain such a separation distance so that visual impacts will be curtailed and limited. While impacts will vary considerably depending on the scale of projects and the proposed location it is imperative that we ensure that we do not allow for a significant long term detrimental impact on the amenity of people living nearby.

I therefore wish to commend this bill to the house.