Wind energy plans
Plans by two renewable energy companies, US-owned Element Power and Eddie O’Connor’s Mainstream Renewable Power, to install hundreds of wind turbines in the midlands, with the electricity they generate being exported to Britain, have been characterised by objectors as “an Irish solution to a British problem”. And indeed, there is considerable opposition in Britain, particularly in the Tory shires, to plans for more wind turbines, on the basis that they would despoil the Constable-like quality of much of rural England.
Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte told the British Irish Chamber conference in Dublin last Friday that the realisation of a common EU market for energy would deliver real benefits to consumers when electricity is being “traded and transmitted backwards and forwards across frontiers, at scale and at competitive prices”. But he also cautioned that it is “far too soon to be making final judgments as to whether any of the projects so far submitted will be approved and under what level of overarching design”.
The Minister indicated that he favours “a plan-led approach, which makes optimal use of any additional infrastructure installed, rather than a simple direct connection approach that sees wind farms on Irish soil simply as off-shore generating capacity for the UK grid”. In other words, there should be benefits for Irish consumers as well as those in Britain. Mr Rabbitte also called for a “transparent process for project selection, along the lines of a competitive tendering process”.
Given that there are significant objections to the plans being mooted by Element and Mainstream in terms of their impact on the landscape and on people’s homes, the best way to ensure a “plan-led approach” would be to commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment, under the relevant EU directive, so that the likely impacts can be identified at an early stage, with public participation, bearing in mind the EU target of achieving a 20 per cent share for renewables by 2020.