A major public conference to debate the pros and cons of locating largescale wind farms in Laois has been jettisoned before it takes place, because the wind farm companies declined to attend.
The announcement of the conference was made at a heated public information meeting on wind farms in Luggacurren Parish Hall last Thursday night.
Henry Fingleton from People Over Wind (POW) told a packed hall that it was planned to hold the major conference in Portlaoise on Monday 10 June and that respected RTÉ journalist and presenter Seán O’Rourke would chair the proceedings. Mr Fingleton said that invitations had been issued to representatives of the wind farm companies Element Power and Main Stream and also to the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA).
Yesterday (Monday), Mr Fingleton told the ***Laois Nationalist*** that the two companies and the IWEA had declined to attend the public conference.
Speaker after speaker last Thursday night expressed their anger at the companies not being present at that meeting also, despite being invited to attend. Marion Condron said: “They should be here to tell us why they think these wind farms are good for our areas. Why can’t they be here to tell us the facts and not the spin? The IFA sent their apologies. The two companies were sent invitations but hadn’t the common courtesy to tell us they would not be here. Instead of hearing one side, we would have liked them to be here to give their side.”
Deputy Sean Fleming rubbished the company’s suggestion that between 3,000 to 70,000 jobs would be created. He said TDs visited a wind farm in Cavan which was being operated remotely by a person in Germany. “Jobs are not an issue. They (wind farm companies) should be run out of the town if they say they are,” he said.
He said that the companies have told them that they “intend laying all the power cables from their wind farms down the centre of every road from here (Laois) to Wexford.”
Deputy Charlie Flanagan said that he, too, was disappointed that nobody was present from the companies. He told the meeting: “We live in a democracy and no one company will foist wind farms on the community.”
There was widespread consensus at the meeting that the present 250 to 500 metres setback on wind, as laid out in the current county development plan (CDP), was not sufficient. Cllr Pádraig Fleming told the meeting that an attempt had been made by councillors to vary the CDP to increase the back length, but was declined by council officials. The meeting was reminded that councillors at a previous public meeting had lent their support to a call for a moratorium on wind farm development until proper legislation was in place on setback lengths.
Colm Ward told the meeting that at the recent Laois Chamber AGM, deputy Charlie Flanagan said that he would support a 2,500 to 5,000 kms setback length.
Deputy Flanagan disputed this and said: “If there was a 2,500 kms setback, there wouldn’t be one wind farm in Laois.”
Someone shouted: “Excellent.”
Darragh Conroy from Clonaslee said that he was at the meeting with his neighbour who had just found out that day that “a planning application had just been submitted to erect five wind turbines just 500 metres from his back door.”
Henry Fingleton said that there is a perception of a conflict of interest with the positions that the former general secretary of the Labour Party, Brendan Halligan, has with his position as chairperson of the Sustainable Energy Association of Ireland (SEAI) and his position as a director of Mainstream and who, in 2008, had invested €500,000 in shares in the company.
Deputy Flanagan said that he would bring that concern to the attention of Pat Rabbitte, the minister for communications, energy and natural resources, who appointed Mr Halligan as head of SEAI.
There were also concerns that the wind farm companies wanted to have their planning applications submitted before the current review into the wind farm energy sector in this country is completed, thereby allowing the companies to wind turbines 250 metres from people’s homes.
Cllr John Moran said that there was a need for a balanced debate on wind farms. He said when that has taken place, then people would be in a better position to decide. At that stage, he said councillors would trenchantly represent the views of the community.
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