Up to 50 people opposed to plans for the siting of some 1,150 wind turbines in the midlands are protesting outside a conference on renewable power in Tullamore this morning.
Chanting slogans such as “welcome to the midlands, England’s offshore windfarm”, the protesters said electricity from the windfarms would be exported to the UK, giving little benefit to the midlands, which would have to endure the disruption and noise from the turbines.
Pat Gaye from Mullingar in Co Westmeath said landowners were being offered a 5 per cent retainer to give wind farm developers a six-year option on putting a turbine on their land. He said the money could amount to about €1,000 per turbine per year, but it required farmers to “sign over their rights to object to planning permission”.
Henry Fingleton from the People Over Wind group accused the developers of trying to subvert the planning process through the retainer payments, while Labour Senator John Whelan said development company representatives were “going about in the dark calling on families offering money and telling them their neighbours had signed up”.
Kevin Scully of the Laois Wind Energy Action Group said homeowners were suffering intolerably from constant noise where the turbines had already been erected. He said guidelines on how far the turbines could be located from houses had stipulated a distance of 500 metres when the size of turbines was about 75 metres high.
Using a loudspeaker as delegates arrived at the conference, Mr Fingleton declared: “We won’t allow our politicians get into bed with big business and destroy our landscape.”
However, Diarmuid Twomey of Mainstream Renewable Power said the title of the conference was “Supply Chain Opportunities for Irish Business” and some 450 delegates and 30 trade stands were present and could testify to the numbers of jobs in the industry.
Mr Twomey said Mainstream Renewable Power’s share of the overall development of windfarms in the midlands would be 400 turbines across seven counties . The company was engaged in a two-year public consultation with local communities, he said.
He acknowledged retainers were being offered to landowners and that they contained a clause that landowners could not object to planning permission - but only in relation to the turbine for which they were being paid a retainer.
This was “only fair” he said and did not represent an attempt to subvert the planning process. Those who accepted a retainer were not forbidden to object to the remainder of wind turbines, he added. As regards exporting the wind energy to the UK, he said the industry was no different to agriculture or any other industry in exporting Irish products.
Represented among the trade stands was Dundalk Institute of Technology’ research centre for renewable energy. Paul MacArtain of the centre said experience had shown the turbines-to-jobs ratio worked out at about one technician per 10 MW of generated power.
A proposal to generate a total of 8,000 MW of electricity, such as was proposed by a range of developers, would he said create “hundreds of jobs” for electricians, technicians and service personnel. “They are well paid jobs,” he said.