With communities all over Ireland increasingly affected by wind farms, there is concern, confusion and growing anger about overall policy and planning for wind energy
A RURAL community groups across Ireland will gather in dublin on Wednesday to protest against proposals to build large-scale wind farms on both sides of the border.
Anti-turbine and pylon protestors will march from Parnell Square to Leinster House as part of a “concerted effort in making a stand against the government and their plan to industrialise our counties”. This week a delegation representing northern groups visited Stormont to hand in their submissions to the environment committee’s wind energy inquiry. Yesterday was the deadline for submissions. Accompanied by Aidan Campbell of the Rural Community network, the delegation met environment minister Mark H Durkan to outline their concerns regarding the effectiveness of existing planning guidelines in terms of regulating wind development in northern Ireland. “The current planning policy provides inadequate protection for the amenity and health of the resident community in northern Ireland,” a delegation spokesperson said.
That view echoed the concerns of groups around the island who fear planning regulations do not offer robust protection as governments come under pressure to cut fossil-fuel use to meet the european Union’s looming CO2 targets.
The Stormont meeting occurred just days after the Sustainable energy Authority of Ireland issued a report saying that during a five-year period renewable energy had saved more than E 1 billion in fossil fuel imports, had reduced CO2 emissions by 12 million tonnes and had not added to consumers’ bills.
SEAI chief executive Dr Briann Motherway described the island’s wind as a “great natural resource” but he admitted there were “places we shouldn’t build wind farms” and that communities “need to be consulted and their concerns need to be addressed”. “The planning process is central to that,” he said.
However, Andrew Duncan of the Mullingar-based Lakeland Wind Information Group, which is opposing proposals to build a wind farm overlooking the midlands town, claimed developers were exploiting a “weak” planning system.
He said that people on the island had been presented with a “fait accompli and it is all wind-orientated” with no adequate level of debate.
Mr Duncan also claimed that Ireland’s planning systems had “never envisaged” the nature and scale of wind farms being proposed today. “We are looking at a huge transformation of the Irish landscape,” Mr Duncan said, expressing concern about property prices, health implications and the visual impact of massive turbines.
Ireland’s first commercial wind farm was commissioned at Bellacorrick, Co Mayo, in 1992 and today there are 205 wind farms on the island, according to figures from the Irish Wind energy Association.
An IWEA-commissioned report from Trinity College Dublin and the south’s economic
think-tank the ESRI has suggested that up to 35,000 jobs could be generated by the wind energy sector in construction, engineering, manufacturing and IT. However, a second report, compiled by consultants BW energy and commissioned by anti-pylon campaigners, has criticised EirGrid’s Grid25 pylon proposals to use an upgraded electricity network to export to Britain.
The authors warned that the E 3.8bn pylons projects, coupled with the installation of large-scale wind farms across the island, could destabilise the network and lead to mass blackouts while the export plans were “without sound foundation”. EirGrid has dismissed the claims saying that the projects were “internal to the Irish system” and that the company would maintain reliable power supplies to all regions.
However, many people whose local landscape has been earmarked by developers for turbines remain unconvinced by the industry’s arguments. Owen McMullan, who chairs West Tyrone Against Wind Turbines, accused politicians, industry chiefs and developers of failing to listen properly to people on the ground.
He argued that governments should be focussing more on investing money into health and education and protecting the environment rather than alienating communities. “The government has a duty of care to protect its citizens and the environment. We believe that is not happening,” he said, accusing the pro-wind lobby of “making a mockery of our protected sites”.
Mr McMullan suggested that developers often tried to ‘slip’ planning notices past residents by making them as low-key as possible in the media and he criticised Stormont for leaving it up to those behind projects to conduct environmental impact studies. “If ordinary people don’t do something now wind farms and pylons will empty out the countryside,” he said.
There has been a great deal of coverage of concerns about turbines, in relation to groundwater pollution, damage to the roads infrastructure and the danger of landslides caused by heavy traffic during construction.
Post-construction, opponents argue that noise from turbines can cause health problems.
Australian health research body the NHMRC this week said it had found “no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans”.
On the other hand, Offaly County Council last year made a submission to a southern review of wind energy guidelines urging a “precautionary approach” in relation to turbines “in proximity to noise sensitive locations”.
I’ve previously written about the health and environmental concerns linked to turbines but the fact that every argument on the issue appears to have a counter argument only adds to public disquiet and points to the need for more independent research and open debate.
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