Claims by the the Government and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) that wind power can be used to de-carbonise our energy system are not justified by the available evidence. A rudimentary cost benefit analysis (CBA) to examine ways of decarbonising would have shown how deeply flawed this policy is.
Moneypoint power station, alone, produces 4.7 million tonnes of CO2 annually by burning cheap imported coal, twice the amount our collective 1,500 turbines save. Wind turbines spread over some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland save a paltry 3 to 4 per cent of overall CO2 emissions according to the SEAI (2.4 million tonnes) and less according to other analysts.
If a CBA had been undertaken, it most likely that converting Moneypoint to sustainable biomass or clean gas would have emerged as a better option than wind, saving billions of euros, with better environmental outcomes. Likewise, upgrading our present stock of badly insulated homes may have been identified as another viable option. A Green minister and a powerful lobby group meant that no CBA was carried out and none of these options properly explored before industrial wind was rolled out.
Because the wind doesn’t always blow, wind turbines produce about 30 per cent of their maximum potential output. Electricity is very difficult to store and to date no feasible, cost effective, grid-scale storage technology suitable for Ireland has emerged. Consequently, intermittent electricity must always be backed up by conventional generation to provide power on demand – a basic expectation in Ireland. No conventional generation has been closed down because of wind.
The Public Spending Code mandates the appraisal and evaluation of any project with capital expenditure of more than €20 million by means of CBA. Furthermore, projects and plans with environmental implications must be evaluated according to the European Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, which provides a high level of protection to the environment as well as giving citizens the right to participate in environmental decisions. Both assessments require consideration of alternative methods of achieving the objective of CO2 emission reduction, yet neither has been carried out.
The social impacts of wind energy in rural Ireland are enormous. The wind industry continues to operate a ruthless cloak-and-dagger, divide-and-conquer strategy. “Community gain funds” and payouts have resulted in disharmony and disagreement among neighbours, sometimes causing major family fallouts.
Turbine construction is governed by out-dated planning guidelines – described by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, in Dáil Eireann as “unfit for purpose” – which allow them just 500m from homes, sometimes resulting in devastating consequences for families. The issue of noise from turbines recently made the headlines when Enercon Wind Farm Services Ireland Ltd admitted liability for nuisance caused to seven families who abandoned their homes in 2011 due to noise. Other affected families will probably take similar court actions.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has known since 2015 that the minimum setback distance of a turbine from a house required to protect human health from noise is far greater than that currently recommended. This information, which emerged from an Access to Environmental Information enquiry, was kept under departmental wraps and publication of updated planning guidelines promised by the Minister within six months of this government’s formation have been repeatedly postponed.
Currently wind turbines are reaching heights of 160m and heading for 250m. The devastation of our landscape is happening and accelerating, affecting communities forced to live in this industrialised landscape, tourists visiting Ireland and natural habitats.
Wind energy generation is heavily subsidised. The Public Service Obligation paid to the wind industry reached€240 million this year. The dispersed nature of wind farms and their intermittent output requires the electricity grid to be upgraded at an estimated cost of €3.5 billion, another unaccounted-for subsidy to the industry borne by consumers. In addition, the government forgoes revenue by allowing tax breaks to wind-farm investors.
The Minister continues to support a misguided and uncosted policy that delivers little for the environment at enormous cost to our economy and landscape, and which threatens the health and well-being of rural dwellers upon whom these industrial developments are forced. Promises were made to rural Ireland before the last election; the Minister and this government have broken them.
The continued failure to ask basic questions and the unwavering support for wind energy without even a rudimentary CBA is reminiscent of the politics that mismanaged the Irish economy into bankruptcy in 2008. It would seem that we are doomed to repeat the exercise in the field of renewable energy.
Paula Byrne is spokesperson for Wind Aware Ireland
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