Communities affected by wind energy development being kept in the dark

Opinion: There is a great lack of clear communication about what these schemes will involve

How come in the publicity shots for wind energy there are never any houses? Photograph: Getty Images

How come in the publicity shots for wind energy there are never any houses? Photograph: Getty Images

Thu, Jan 2, 2014, 00:01

Eddie O’Connor of Mainstream Renewable Power, writing (Irish Times, December 19th) about economic stagnation, suggests that “building a new green economy” based on “an economic model that will enrich ordinary people and protect the planet” is the way forward. I would agree with him that “we cannot tolerate a business as usual scenario” in respect of economic development dependent on “cheap energy, no environmental constraints and constant population growth”.

I believe Ireland can play an effective and sustainable part in securing its energy needs and earning badly needed export revenue. After all, as Dr O’Connor’s company says on its website, “the cost of the fuel is free”. It is blowing around us and, as the wind-energy companies know, the higher one goes the stronger it is. Therefore it would be fair to say it is a community resource, and one that I think should benefit the community.

I support renewable energy: my electricity comes from Airtricity and I have solar panels. So why am I so concerned about wind development plans for the midlands?

In a recent speech to the Irish Wind Energy Association, Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said “misinformation abounds” and there is “gross distortion and mischievous exaggeration” in relation to wind development. The situation is much more serious than that, as people in the midlands, already struggling, have been stressed and alarmed by a lack of clear communication about proposed large-scale wind-energy development in their area. Energy companies whose motivation is profit seem to be driving the project. The process has been shrouded in secrecy, with landowners gagged by non-disclosure clauses. Dr O’Connor has said his project will generate revenue by 2017, and yet we have no clear Government policy on the issue.


Local anger and dismay
Even more alarming is that Bord Na Mó

na, which already owns 70,000 acres in Offaly alone, has advertised locally for farmers to lease land to it for wind-energy development. It was widely believed, from statements from public representatives, that the ultra-large turbines were destined for the cutaway bogs. This development, along with private firms such as Dr O’Connor’s announcing that they have signed up hundreds of landowners, has angered many people. They do not know what is going on and do not trust the State to protect their quality of life. It is a pity that the communications element of Mr Rabbitte’s department is not more active.

Much of Dr O’Connor’s vision is worthy. However, he, his company and others have patronised and disrespected us. His website claims that depressed property prices will rise because of the jobs generated. Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, which is chaired by Brendan Halligan, one of Mainstream’s board members (could there be a conflict of interest?) states on its website that there will be one longer-term job per 10 to 20 turbines. So, no jobs bonanza then. His website further asserts that property prices will not be depressed. Yet Denmark, which has highly-developed wind energy, 80 per cent of which according to a London School of Economics June 2012 study, “were characterised by a community ownership model” sees it otherwise. Recognising that turbines near homes depress home prices, they have an impartial statutory process which accesses any loss of value. Compensation kicks in at a 1 per cent devaluation.

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