Wind farm fears ‘needlessly stoked’ by developers, says Minister
Minister criticises developers being dismissive of residents’ concerns
Concerns about the status of wind projects in the midlands have been “needlessly stoked by unthinking communication by some developers”, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has said.
He warned that “misinformation abounds” in relation to the projects involved, but being dismissive of residents’ concerns was not the way to deal with “wrong information”.
Currently two companies, Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power, are in the process of developing a large-scale wind energy project in the midlands, which is anticipated will provide 5,000MWs of wind to the UK market and will involve the building of 2,000 turbines.
When asked afterwards who he had in mind with his criticisms, Mr Rabbitte responded: “Everybody who needs to know where that is pointed in the industry knows and it might not be helpful for me to bell the cat, but if you watch certain recent television performances you might get a better guide.”
Last week, Mainstream Renewable Power chief executive Eddie O’Connor appeared on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme and was criticised afterwards by concerned residents who felt he was dismissive of their views.
Mr O’Connor subsequently issued an apology and said it was not his intention to dismiss their concerns. “I looked at the footage afterwards and I fully accept how it could be perceived that way,” he said.
A statement from Mainstream yesterday said it was addressing the concerns of local people and had already visited 2,000 homes within a kilometre of a proposed wind turbine even before the statutory public consultations.
Mr Rabbitte told the conference that large-scale wind projects producing energy for export, must await a national renewable energy export policy and planning framework, which will guide An Bord Pleanála when considering any proposals of a significant scale for wind energy export projects. Such projects will be underpinned by a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
He assured midlands residents that they would be consulted and the midlands would not be blighted by wind turbines.
Coillte Enterprise managing director Mark Foley said consultation with locals was an “absolutely critical” part of the success of wind farm projects and public acceptance was the biggest challenge facing the industry. He exhorted the industry to have the courage to “call out developers who are dismissive, who are arrogant, who are not prepared to listen.”
IWEA chief executive Kenneth Matthews warned there would not be a future for the wind energy industry in Ireland if opponents got their way and every turbine had to be set back at least 2km from dwellings.
Such a measure would only allow wind farms be located on 3 per cent of the land, but it would be effectively zero per cent when other considerations such as planning guidelines are taken into account, he said.