A Vicarstown tourism business has spoken out against proposed wind farms in Co Laois.
Concerned Laois residents attended a clean energy conference in Tullamore on Friday 8 March and a deputation from the Laois Wind Energy Group had a private meeting energy minister Pat Rabbitte.
The conference was open to questions from the floor and Laois residents took the opportunity to put their questions to minister Rabbitte and management from the two energy companies, who wish to develop wind farms in Laois.
Orla and Philip Crean from Vicarstown attended the conference. The couple has been operating Barrowline Cruises for a decade, providing vessels to tourists.
“People come from all over the world, Canada, America, South Africa,” said Ms Crean. “We know that people come for the beautiful unspoilt Irish countryside. This proposal would have wind farms all along the River Barrow and Grand Canal.”
Ms Crean queried Element Power’s proclamation that there would be no cost to the public from their development. She asked why no mention had been made of the cost to tourism.
She pointed to a statement from Scotland’s Tourist Board, which claimed that wind farms would drive tourists away.
Minister Rabbitte replied that the board’s fears had proved unfounded and they were attracting more tourists than ever before
“I personally think there ought not to be any difficulty with the attractions of Irish tourism with clean energy sector,” he said.
Ms Crean insisted that irreparable damage would be done to the tourism sector.
Vicarstown farmer Kevin Scully asked management from Element Power and Mainstream Renewable Power how much they would earn from each turbine a year.
Mr Cowhig of Element Power said that the revenue yielded would be higher than €500,000 a year, but the company had to wait a long time to see dividends from their investment.
“It’s all about risk reward,” said Mr Cowhig, “you have to wait to get your money.”
Mr Scully said that it was a poor return for farmers leasing their land who, in some instances, would earn €12,000 a year.
Mr Cowhig attempted to allay concerns about the number of turbines, stating “there will no be wind turbine at every crossroads”. Turbines would be installed at least 500 metres from houses.
Julie Scully from Ballybrittas posed a question in relation to the UK energy department’s position on on-shore wind farms. Ms Scully said that a moratorium was in place on on-shore wind production.
“It was put in place because of the devastation to property prices, health implications and environmental reasons,” she said.
Kenneth Williams, CEO of the Irish Wind Energy Association, denied that was the case.
Senator John Whelan backed the Bord na Móna development model of wind energy, but expressed his concern at “misleading and blatantly false” employment and economic claims being put forward.
Following on from a query from Emo councillor Tom Mulhall, Mr Cowhig said that it was his company’s intention that one planning application would be submitted to An Bord Pleanála under a strategic infrastructure development rather than to multiple plans to individual local authorities.
Deputy Charlie Flanagan and officials from Laois Co Council were also in attendance at the conference.
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