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Unsustainable wind energy not an alternative source of energy

I have been opposing wind farms for the past 14 years, and I am an environmentalist with a long track record on environmental issues.
So the immediate question arises, as to why I should be opposed to wind energy, which is viewed as being “green and sustainable”?

This really goes to the heart of the question, and why wind energy cannot be described as an alternative source of energy – very simply, because it is not a predictable source. Wind blows intermittently, not on demand, so it is therefore unpredictable, and must be backed up by conventional power plants.

This is described as “spinning reserve”. What this term means is that conventional fossil fuel plants are kept idling when wind energy is available on the national grid, so that they can be cranked up when the requirement arises. This idling of plants generates greater levels of carbon dioxide emissions, and also the requirement to have conventional plants on standby that continue to run regardless of whether wind generated power is coming onto the grid. This cancels out the so-called carbon dioxide savings.

It also makes no sense from a cost point of view, nor does wind energy which is heavily subsidised, with all customers paying a tariff on their domestic and industrial bills, a situation that has seen us now being the second dearest country for electricity prices in the eurozone.

This is hardly a sustainable position for a country with a broken economy that is actively seeking inward investment to generate economic growth.

From an environmental point of view, wind energy projects are frequently sited in upland areas of sensitive environment. For example, up to 78% of wind energy projects to date in Ireland have been located on upland blanket bogs, a sensitive eco-environment, with all the consequent cumulative environmental impacts that stem from that in terms of impacts and wildlife and water quality, etc.

I have a great difficulty with the standard of appropriate assessment by the planning authorities that is applied to wind energy projects. No other industrial development would be allowed in such areas, and certainly not with such a poor assessment. A knock-on effect is the negative impact on scenic landscapes and the related impact on tourism. These structures are dominant in such landscapes, and undermine the very important asset to tourism that our attractive landscape character in such areas provides.

Noise is a common issue for communities with related health impact. There is an increasing body of published evidence internationally which identifies health concerns relating to the noise generated by turbines and human health. This adverse effect is most notable in the case of children; environmentally generated noise is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a growing threat to public health and well-being.

In Ireland we have a poor approach to the assessment of noise impact, based on an outdated system for assessment that allows a level of noise generation that exceeds WHO guidelines for the minimum acceptable level of night-time noise.

The relationship between the noise generated by turbines and disturbance of sleep is poorly understood by policy makers, and totally dismissed by the industry. The level of scientific proof required to establish this negative threat to public well-being has still not been reached, but there is enough evidence to alert authorities to the risk – and it should be addressed.

I foresee a situation where landowners on whose properties wind farms are developed will be a listed party in future compensation claims.

Without the level of grant aid currently available to this industry, it would not exist. It is hard to imagine any other industry where it would be acceptable for the government to impose a levy on the public purse to provide this level of support, where clear evidence exists that the national average output from wind-farms is as low as 23% of their capacity. As efficiencies go, this is a no-brainer.

The wind industry are good at juggling the figures and exaggerating claims for performance, but the reality is that a very small fraction of the installed wind farms contribute consistently to the national grid.

I would very much question the wisdom of community wind farms. This is a popular idea in some quarters, but given concerns regarding noise levels and sleep disturbance that impair health, it is a questionable approach in the future.

By and large, it is rural communities that are affected, so when the industry quotes figures for 80% in favour of wind energy, I question how that figure was reached. The reality is that when wind-farm projects are announced, the majority of communities tend to take a different view, and oppose the development. Last Friday over 1,000 people attended a protest outside Dublin Castle organised by the Midlands anti-wind farm groups, where there is strong opposition over five counties to a proposal for up to 2,000 turbines.

The protest was attended by people from all over Ireland, and received widespread coverage in the media. The wind energy industry was having its global wind farm day conference in Dublin Castle at the time.

The reality for rural communities is that wind farms are divisive, even within families, and are not a long-term sustainable solution to our energy needs.

Like the housing boom, this bubble will burst, and as usual, it will be the citizens of Ireland who will be left to pick up the bill.

*Peter Crossan is an environmentalist (and part-time farmer) who has advised community groups nationwide on wind farm issues.