A sometimes heated meeting on proposed wind farms in the Ballyroan, Timahoe and The Swan areas of Laois heard that if the plans proceed it would be seen as “the second colonisation of Laois by Britain.”
A second meeting in as many weeks on proposed wind farms in Laois saw over 150 people attend an information meeting in Ballyroan Community Hall last Monday night.
During the course of the meeting, TDs and local public representatives came in for stinging criticism. Mary Condron from The Swan sparked a robust response from the politicians present when she said that there “is a perception” that politicians had bought into the project on a “nod and a wink and brown envelopes. There seems to be a veil of secrecy surrounding all this.” She added: “I can’t see any reason why you should be supporting this.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney described Ms Condron’s comments as “libellous.”
Cllr Pádraig Fleming rejecting the comments, saying: “No-one’s taking money. People’s perceptions are wrong.”
Cllr James Daly said that he had met with representatives from Element Power, along with other councillors from Laois, and “most of the councillors who left the room were opposed to their developments.”
Billy Colbert asked the politicians to support a moratorium on wind farm developments in Laois until legislation was introduced on them.
Cllrs Daly, Fleming and Sweeney said that they would, as did deputy Brian Stanley. One of the organisers, Henry Fingleton, said that there were plans for 2,500 wind turbines to be erected in the midlands, 500 of these in Laois, standing 185 metres high, to supply the British market only. He said that there is strong resistance to wind farms in Britain as they do not want their landscape blighted. He said that 100 British MPs have called for a halt to wind farm developments in Britain. He said that two wind farm company representatives from Mainstream Renewables and Element Power-Greenwire have approached farmers in the Cullenagh, Ballyruin, Cashel bog, Spink, Timahoe to Carlow and Vicarstown areas and had agreed terms to locate turbines on their lands at approximately €20,000 per year, should the companies receive planning permission for them. He said that the landowners have signed leases with confidentiality and gag clauses attached before any pre‐planning consultation has taken place.
Mr Fingleton said that should these turbines get the go-ahead, it would see the areas looking like industrial landscape with wind turbines, pylons, poles and overhead wires in all areas. He also said that there were serious health and noise concerns around turbines. He asked: “Who buys a house or sells a site close to a wind farm? Will your children build in this area? Will they get a mortgage? Will they want to? What happens to a community if no-one stays?”
A letter from deputy Charlie Flanagan was read out at the meeting outlining his concerns that current wind farm planning guidelines were outdated and the need for proper mandatory statutory guidelines to be introduced.
Andy Duncan from Lakelands Wind Information Group said that there was strong Labour and Fine Gael party links with both wind energy companies and he believed that plans for the midlands was a “done deal.” He said: “It’s been planned for a long time back. You’ve got to get up and get angry. It is going to be railroaded through the people of the midlands unless we rise up.”
Chemical engineer Pat Swords, who is in the High Court this week challenging the government on the legality of the renewable energy plan, spoke about how the government and county councils have breached international rules by not carrying out proper assessments in advance of agreeing wind energy plans. He described wind energy as the next “groupthink.”
Colm Fingleton from the Ratheniska, Timahoe and Spink (RTS) sub-station action group claimed that the new sub-station being built by Eirgrid in Ratheniska was going to be used as a midland hub, “a socket” for renewables, which, he said, “was never discussed during public consultations.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney said that she had “grave” concerns about the wind farms. She said that she had been invited to two meetings organised by the wind energy companies, but had not attended.
She said that she “had grave concerns about some of the information that I’ve heard here tonight. We can all get lost in the technical information. I don’t buy into this corporate Ireland telling us what to do.”
One person shouted from the crowd: “It’s very sad that local representatives know so little about these, when the people here tonight know quite a lot more than they do.”
Deputy Brian Stanley said that if legislation was not introduced on wind farms that he could envisage “the midlands awash with windmills.”
Teresa Carter from Laois Environmental Action Forum (LEAF) said that there was a need to adopt a national strategy on environmental issues. “We need an alternative plan. She said that the planning process will go straight to An Bord Pleanála and bypass the county council planners.
Sean Casey from Lakelands Wind Energy Group said: “There’s a sense of desperation out there about what we can do. But you have a right to be angry and to focus on the health aspects of these wind farms. It’ll be no point in a couple of months’ time complaining saying that you’re sorry you didn’t get more involved. It’s up to everyone to become active and to become aggressive. Bring the fight to the enemy. We have to bring it to them.”
Colm Fingleton from the RTS group said: “This is an English project and not for the supply of energy to Ireland. You have to stand up and say, and don’t be embarrassed to do so. We had unanimous support from our councillors. We were the first county in Ireland to ensure 400kv (electric) lines went underground and had that included in the county development plan. But EirGrid took our councillors to the High Court and got that changed.”
Closing the meeting, Seamus Fingleton said: “We need to get together and form a strategy of how we will tackle them.”
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