Wind energy is incapable of reducing CO2 emissions in any meaningful way.
According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), in 2012 our carbon emissions dropped by an abysmal 2.6% as a result of the 1,200 turbines erected in Ireland. This drop is optimistic compared to other more independent peer reviewed reports, which put the savings at closer to 1%.
Despite this, and warnings from Eirgrid themselves that more wind on our grid will save incrementally less and less CO2, our Government is intent on doubling the number of wind turbines and their associated grid structures – pylons – on the Irish landscape.
Wind Aware Ireland, an alliance of community groups, has consistently called on the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) to commission a full, independent cost-benefit analysis of these plans. So far, none has been forthcoming.
It is estimated the grid upgrade required would cost €3.6bn and the subsidisation of wind energy is already increasing electricity bills for consumers and businesses.
All of these costs would be justified were the environmental benefits evident and indeed, responsible citizens would be far more likely to accept the imposition of these industrial-scale developments on the landscape. It is an entirely different matter, however, when we know how ineffective turbines are at helping the environmental crisis we face.
Wind energy must be constantly backed up by conventional power sources. Turbines produce electricity less than 30% of the time and this must be used as it is produced because of the huge difficulty in storing electricity. Often, wind energy is produced when it is not needed, in which case it is ‘constrained off’ or dumped while producers still get their guaranteed price. Therefore, wind cannot be considered a reliable source and conventional plants such as gas, coal, and peat must continue to run. To balance the Irish grid, gas plants are turned up and down to match intermittent wind, hence the disappointing CO2 reductions.
The key question is: is it worth it? Are these minimal (and reducing) CO2 savings worth it when compared to the many negative impacts? The social and environmental impacts include destruction of our landscape, environmental damage, and health impacts from noise.
The economic issues include loss of property value, effects on businesses such as tourism and the thoroughbred industry, loss of competitiveness, and expensive electricity contributing to fuel poverty for some.
Indeed, many commentators, including Colm McCarthy, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the Irish Academy of Engineering, the National Competitiveness Council, and the ESB themselves have criticised the current unsustainable plans.
For some families, the impacts are far more dramatic. Several families have been forced to leave their homes due to the health effects of noise and infrasound. These include families currently taking their case to the High Court, and others who fear coming forward.
Our own deputy chief medical officer, Colette Bonner, has recognised a cluster of symptoms associated with wind turbine syndrome, while stating turbines do not represent a threat to public health.
There are now over 20 peer-reviewed studies analysing the effects of low frequency noise on humans.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly is reviewing the wind energy planning guidelines. These guidelines currently suggest a setback of 500m between a turbine and a dwelling. The guidelines allow a nighttime noise limit which greatly exceeds that set by the WHO as being safe for human health.
Where best practice is employed, the setback distance ends up at between 1.5km and 2km for modern turbines, not 500m. This Government, by failing to adequately protect its citizens from wind developers, may leave this State liable to multiple class actions.
We need to act responsibly. The current incoherent energy plan by DCENR contributes neither to greenhouse gas reduction nor security of supply. We have the ridiculous situation whereby the PSO levy in our electricity bills, which supposedly supports ‘green’ wind energy, also props up electricity provided by peat generation.
Peat, supplying only 8% of our electricity, produces a disproportionate 19% of CO2 emissions. Thispolicy makes no sense environmentally, economically and socially.
The lobby group representing wind developers, The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) with a budget of almost €1m a year, has been remarkably successful in convincing policy makers and senior department officials to pursue an all-wind renewable strategy. This, with no analysis on the costs to and impacts on Ireland and its people.
Furthermore, the industry has little regard over the rights of communities to participate in decision making, as laid out under the Aarhus Convention while most of our politicians have accepted the industry spin.
According to the ESB, we have an enormous excess of electricity available to our grid for the next 10 years; with almost double our peak demand available, so we do not need any more electricity for some time. We can afford to press the pause button and make rational decisions.
These decisions need to be in the best interests of the Irish people and not merely big business.
If we are serious about reducing CO2 emissions, we need a complete overhaul of this energy policy. The Government is making 20-year commitments to wind developers right now, so we need an immediate moratorium on all wind projects and wind-related grid projects until we have a proper cost benefit analysis.
We need to question the objectivity of the SEAI and the senior officials in the DECNR whose seemingly unwavering support for wind above all other renewables has led to this mess.
We need our politicians to provide leadership and not allow us be led by the IWEA down this path of pure folly.
Paula Byrne is PRO for Wind Aware Ireland
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