Not every community is lucky enough to have an Erin Brockovich, the fearless American legal clerk who successfully challenged the powerful Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993 over water supplies degraded by mining.
Despite that, more and more communities, especially in rural Ireland, feel a pressing need for one.
Everything from fracking, gas pipelines, open-cast mining, blanket forestry, mega-pylons, expanding airports, incinerators, farm monocultures stretching to horizons, landfill dumps, fish farms, high-rise developments – and maybe even nuclear plants in years to come – change the living space of families and communities in profound ways.
These projects – seen as legitimate, progressive investment opportunities by others – are invariably opposed but not always blocked through the planning process.
That age-old, David-and-Goliath conflict is at its sharpest today in communities where wind farms are proposed.
Just last month, in a landmark high court ruling, families in a north Cork village successfully challenged wind farm operators – Enercon Windfarm Services Ireland Ltd and Carrigcannon Wind Farm Ltd – and settled their actions because, as was conceded, turbines adversely affected their health and the quality of their lives.
Details of that settlement remain confidential but whether is to protect privacy or to discourage others who might take similar actions against wind farm developers is a moot point.
Whatever the details, it certainly was a shot across the wind sector’s bows, warning developers that they do not have free rein and that communities can be protected by the courts – even if insane legal costs make that prospect a daunting gamble.
Today we report on another community – or at least a section of a community – that may have to go to court and embrace all the huge financial risk that that involves.
The communities in the Waterford villages of Ballylannan, Stadbally, and Bunmahon are bitterly divided over proposals for a wind farm in their area.
The plans were not widely publicised and only came to light when it was revealed at a Stradbally GAA club meeting that those behind the project were prepared to invest €80,000 in the club.
Opponents of the wind farm suggest that this flag-of-convenience gesture was made in an effort to allow the developers describe the project as a community-based one.
That optimism was misplaced.
Though we must reduce our addiction to carbon-based fuels – despite America’s rogue-nation position on climate change – huge doubts remain around wind as a long-term, viable alternative.
Its opponents argue it just another way for investors to add a carriage on the subsidies gravy train.
Unsurprisingly, its advocates reject this but remain reluctant to develop wind farms unless they are guaranteed minimum prices.
There seems an obvious solution, expecially for an island nation. Why not confine all wind farms at sea?
There may be technical challenges but they would be resolved if wind is really the answer to our energy problems.
Not only that but it would mean that vulnerable people would not have to fight tooth and nail to save their communities.
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