Like old-style carpetbaggers, energy companies are flocking to this country, drawn by the quick-buck opportunities they see in the exploitation of the last natural resource we have at our disposal – wind.
It’s a replay of Paddy’s lament as the hastily mustered outfits lick their chops at the prospect of making fortunes from the energy generated by gigantic wind turbines. And they’re helped in no small way by a shambolic planning system and the greed of some farmers who can amass wealth overnight by selling or leasing land.
To give a taste of what Minister Rabbitte and pals have in store, listen to this: 2,300 wind turbines to be located in 40 wind farms that are planned for the midlands. Yes, 2,300! And these are no windmills of the mind!
They’ll be spread across Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Kildare and Meath, and will be taller than the Spire on Dublin’s O’Connell Street: 185 metres high, (skyscraper turbines with a height of 350m are currently being developed, so down the line we’ll also get those).
Near Brosna on the Cork-Kerry border, a six-turbine wind farm has got approval even though Kerry Airport warned that the turbines posed a threat to aircraft. Kerry has more than 170 wind turbines currently operating around Castleisland, Tralee and Ballydesmond, and the county’s local authority has granted planning permission for another two hundred.
Cork County Council approved the construction of 14 monsters on the Limerick border, in the Ballyhoura Mountains north of Doneraile, despite a demand from Limerick County Council for a ban on all wind farm development in the area, and the objections of 17 families.
Bantry already has had its share of them and even more wind farms are due for Milane Hill, Currabwee, Lahanaght, Colomane and Cappaboy.
The 140-metres-high turbines at Lisheen Wind Farm in Co Tipperary are currently the tallest in the country but they’re going to be dwarfed by the 11 turbines on the proposed wind farm in Ringaskiddy. These will be 156.5 metres tall, more than double the 18-storey Elysian Tower in Cork, which is 72 metres high. The things will be near hundreds of homes.
Senior planners warned that the gigantic structures were excessively obtrusive and will scar the visual character of the harbour, as well as posing danger to a nearby National School. The experts were over-ruled.
The result is that the scenic face of the Irish countryside is set to change forever thanks to the invasion of the world’s largest wind turbines. The question people are asking is if Rabbitte and Kenny’s enthusiasm to implement a crazy EU energy policy is too high a price to pay for the destructive impact the policy is having.
Brits say no
An even more important question is: what’s the hidden agenda?
It’s this: the 2,300 turbines planned for the midlands will be erected in Ireland because Britain doesn’t want them. Public opinion is so hostile to wind farms on the neighbouring island that the energy minister, John Hayes, said rural communities would no longer have such a ‘blight’ imposed on them.
British politicians agree that onshore wind farms ‘significantly impact’ on the rural economy and the rural environment in ways that weren’t intended when the wind farm idea was first touted as a method of solving the renewable energy dilemma.
Yet, wind turbines enchant our Third World Paddies. Their devotion amuses the Brits who have come to the conclusion that noise, visual pollution and the destruction of the landscape doesn’t bother the ‘funny’ Irish politicos. The Brits also suspect that since the turbines are described in metres people here have a bit of a problem getting a mental picture of their gigantic size.
Even more ludicrous from an English point of view is that Irish politicos are prepared to butcher the Irish environment so that they can create energy for Britain. The power generated will be exported by means of undersea cables that will join the British grid at two points in Wales.
And, since the Brits no longer are permitted to build wind farms on land, it’s cheaper for them to buy wind energy from this country than to build offshore wind turbines.
The energy, according to an agreement recently signed by Rabbitte and his British counterparts, will commence to flow from 2017 onwards.
Of course there’s big money to be made by companies who get the official nod to rape the Irish countryside. For example, the Irish energy outfit, Gaelectric, expects to have 13 wind projects on stream by 2017 at a cost of €250 million. Last week a Swedish investment company, Proventus Capital Partners, contributed €65 million in support of the Gaelectric project.
Even the small farmer with the auld field at the top of the hill can make a killing that puts him in the mini-millionaire class – up to €18,000 per year for the right to put a turbine on his land.
As well, farmers have the choice of raking in €6,000 per megawatt of installed electricity, or 3% of sales of electricity generated by the turbines. They also get €10,000 on signing the lease agreement if planning permission is granted.
But, as the eloquent campaigner, Mike de Jong, pointed out, Irish farmers are unaware that British farmers were trousering up to €50,000 for a wind farm on their land. As chairperson of the national campaign for ‘Responsible Engagement with Wind Energy,’ he warned that, in many cases, neighbouring householders know nothing of what’s happening until a planning notice goes up.
Communities are then torn apart between those who make money and those who don’t. To make matters worse, often it’s the case that locals discover only by accident that the turbine will be situated close to their home, and that they face years of noise and visual disturbance. As well, their house becomes unsaleable.
Senator John Kelly last month highlighted the case of a Co Roscommon couple forced to leave their home after they found it intolerable to live beside two wind turbines; a group of families in Banteer is suing a wind farm operator, claiming noise from the huge turbines is affecting their health, and despite all the hoopla about how safe they are, a 64m-high turbine fell over at a wind farm in Co Donegal just two weeks ago!
What is certain is that operators and politicos are becoming increasingly edgy at growing public disquiet and criticism. They fear the success of the anti-wind farm campaigners in Britain could be replicated in this country.
Already calls have been made for a moratorium on wind farms until a comprehensive review takes place on their environmental and health impacts, including noise and property devaluation. In simple terms, public acceptability is fast becoming the main issue to threaten the future of wind farms –and that’s no bad thing!
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