Independent MEP Marian Harkin recently organised a public meeting in Athlone to debate major wind farm proposals for the Midlands.
She approached the meeting with an open mind on the desirability and value of wind as a source of energy – but was calling for legislative provisions in regard to the minimum distance of wind turbines from homes, schools, etc.
She said energy sources need to be sustainable from an environmental, social and economic perspective.
The debate on economic sustainability of wind power was ongoing, she noted, but siting of wind turbines was crucial for her.
She envisaged that people’s quality of life can be maintained if there are clear provisions in place regarding the siting and the size of wind turbines.
Reasonable standpoints, but they may have changed now.
Following the meeting, she admits she is now shocked by the sheer size and extent of the wind farm proposals for the Midlands.
It’s industrial wind farming on a massive scale, she says, having discovered that the Midlands proposal is for 2,500 turbines.
To give an idea of the scale, this is about half of the total number of wind turbines, onshore and offshore, in the entire United Kingdom.
So it’s no wonder there is genuine concern among families and communities all across the Midlands, and what she describes as a feeling among them of non-representation by the political and planning systems.
She said her openness to windpower was shockingly challenged by the members of the public who attended her meeting.
They challenged not only the huge Midlands wind farm proposal, but also alleged there have been serious adverse outcomes from much smaller wind farm developments.
She warned that wind power threatens the community solidarity which is vital to the quality of life and fellowship in rural areas – because of the extent to which wind farm developments have caused local divisions, even within families.
She says nobody, or no area, should be forced into acceptance of a situation which could sunder local communities, without delivering real added value to the vast majority of citizens.
Harkin believes there is time for the Government and wind industry to get it right – if the public’s voice can be clearly heard and taken into consideration in development of the Government’s proposed new planning framework which will guide the planning process on wind farms for An Bord Pleanala.
She also called for full engagement with local communities and individuals, and said their concerns must be catered for.
She said independent expertise to guide communities in evaluating proposed wind farm developments should be provided free of charge.
Otherwise, communities and individuals are immediately at a complete disadvantage, according to the MEP.
When someone of her stature sounds a warning like this, it is time for the Government and the wind industry to take heed.
She has the people behind her, as a consistent poll topper in Sligo–Leitrim and the European Parliament’s North-West constituency.
One of Ireland’s more successful politicians, despite operating as an independent outside the party system, she was a winner of MEP of the Year awards in 2011 and 2012.
She became active in politics due to a belief that people living in disadvantaged areas must rely on their own initiative and energy to progress development.
It seems now, as far as she is concerned, that the direction the wind industry is going offers little for people living in disadvantaged areas.
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