Most people are opposed to having wind farms or pylons anywhere near their homes, a study has found.
Despite being generally in favour of renewable energy, only one third of people would willingly accept a wind farm within 5km of their home and even fewer could accept overhead pylons that close.
The findings, from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), illustrate the challenges in the Government’s plan to meet 70pc of the country’s electricity needs through renewable energy by the end of this decade.
It also signals difficulties ahead for the North-South interconnector project which would see a string of high-voltage pylons erected through Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.
Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan said on Thursday morning he knew the project was unpopular but progress would have to be made on it in the next six months.
Power companies say the interconnector is essential for the all-island electricity market as the amount of power that can move across the existing cross-border transmission system is limited.
The interconnector would provide greatly increased capacity and flexibility needed to source electricity from many different renewable sources and distribute it rapidly, smoothly and safely around the island.
But communities in the affected counties are opposed to the proposal to run it through overhead pylons rather than underground cables.
Underground options have been dismissed as too expensive and technically difficult.
Mr Ryan said the interconnector would be the backbone of the all-island electricity market.
“I know there is a huge political challenge around this and people are very concerned about it but it will have to be overground,” he said.
“That’s probably one of the biggest challenges on my desk – how in the next six months do we get over the real political challenge of going ahead with a project that’s very unpopular in the local area.”
Almost 40pc of the republic’s electricity needs are met from renewables, mainly from more than 200 wind farms, but there is a commitment to get to 70pc by 2030. Demand for electricity is expected to grow by up to 55pc by then.
While long-term the plan is to build off-shore turbines, there are many more on-shore wind farms in the pipeline.
Around 30 new farms have planning permissions and grid connection contracts, planning applications are being prepared for others and local opposition is growing in areas where they are most concentrated.
The ESRI study found that more than three-quarters of people were positively disposed to on-shore wind turbines but just 36pc were willing to accept such development within 5km of their homes. Acceptance levels for overhead transmission lines within 5km were just 28pc.
The study said without public acceptance, more costly options would have to pursued which could raise the price of power by anything from 14pc to 263pc depending on the level of opposition.
“The implication for policy and the wider electricity sector is that community and stakeholder engagement should remain a top priority,” the authors said.
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