Energy agency supports proposed Aran windfarm

Mon, Aug 16, 1999, 01:00

The row over the proposed windfarm on the Aran island of Inis Meain has taken another twist, with the Galway Energy Agency Ltd expressing strong support.

The Friends of the Irish Environment have appealed a recent decision by Galway County Council to grant planning permission for erection of three windmills on the Aran island. It is expected that An Taisce and the Heritage Council will be submitting observations to An Bord Pleanala, along with other groups and individuals including the author, cartographer and environmentalist, Mr Tim Robinson.

While Mr Robinson is not against wind energy per se, he believes the project could destroy one of this coast's exceptional and fragile landscapes. He has sent letters to all three island coops requesting them not to accept wind power on the basis of "superficial green credentials".

The Inis Meain project is backed by the Galway county councillor and board member of Udaras na Gaeltachta, Mr Pol O Foighil, who opened Galway's first wind farm at Indreabhan with the support of the EU, the Minister of State for Public Enterprise, Mr Joe Jacob, and the local priest, Father Micheal O Flannabhra, several months ago.

In a sturdy defence of the Inis Meain venture, which, it is claimed, would fuel a desalination plant on the island along with providing electricity, Mr O Foighil has accused Mr Robinson of "giving vent to confrontational heritage attitudes" and has said he is "hell bent" on the depopulation of Inis Meain.

Mr Robinson has described the councillor's reaction as an "extraordinary and uncalled for outburst" with "xenophobic under tones". One member of the Inis Meain co-op board has resigned in response to the row.

Mr Robinson says the Atlantic coastline, from the lighthouse on Inis Oirr to the light at an tOilean Iarthach at the western end of the island chain, is "by any standards quite exceptional and is virtually uninterrupted and unspoiled.

"The experience of walking the cliff-tops, or of approaching the seaboard down one of the islands' narrow walled boreens, is profound," he said in a recent letter to this newspaper.

"But despite its grandeur this is a very vulnerable landscape," he warns. "Its perspectives are long and wide open. Anything sticking up above the field walls is visible from far away.

"Nothing could be more destructive to it than the endless gesticulations of windmills."

The Galway Energy Agency Ltd, an independent information body based in the City Hall and supported by the local authorities and the EU, has defended the ain proposal.

"The visual impact of wind turbines creates some contradictions, since the optimum location for the turbine energy output is on exposed high level ground and visual impact assessment would have it located at a much lower level," Mr Peter Keavney, manager of the agency says.

"A balance or compromise is the result for environmental harmony. The sight of a wind turbine, whether pleasant or vulgar, is a personal opinion based on aesthetics and individual taste."

In Mr Keavney's opinion, a wind turbine is "a symbol of good responsible energy management and an icon for energy sustain ability".

He believes a 100 per cent renewable energy island within a co-operative framework could provide a sense of project ownership and self-responsibility to the community of Inis Meain, and could also be an "enormous tourist attraction".

He cites islands throughout Europe, including Minorca, Crete, Samso off Denmark and Orkney, where wind turbines provide the base load for electricity.

The agency compliments Mr O Foighil on his efforts in relation to the introduction of sustainable energy, and has offered to act as an intermediary to provide information and encourage dialogue on the development of regional energy initiatives.

The Government's Third Alternative Requirement competition aims to increase renewable energy-based electricity generating plant to 10 per cent of total capacity by the end of this year, and in turn reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year's Finance Act introduced tax relief for renewable energy projects to encourage corporate investment.

Relatively silent during this debate have been the members of the Inis Meain co-op.