Communities wary of accepting wind farm projects are most likely to be won over by the prospect of discounted electricity bills, a conference has heard.
Research has found where community ownership programmes and other potential incentives are explored, it is often simple financial benefits that clear the way for development.
In one wide-ranging survey in the UK, 74 per cent of communities opted for discounts among a list of options, a response that has since been turned into practice, the Irish Wind Energy Association conference was told yesterday.
In Ireland continued wind farm development, now seen as a crucial aspect of carbon reform, is routinely hampered by community objections.
“Shared ownership has been touted as a silver bullet to increase acceptance and from my own personal experience I don’t think that is the case,” said
of UK firm RES which has been involved in wind energy for 30 years. “Discount electricity actually changed people’s opinion of a wind farm, [with] up to 74 per cent of people saying they would actually support a project if they got a discount.”
RES are involved in 28 projects in the UK, of which five now offer discount electricity. A further nine schemes will follow the same model, two of them in Northern Ireland.
Whether or not Ireland pursues a similar approach, there is a consensus that community engagement and investment are now essential requirements if the sector is to expand.
Ireland must reach a 40 per cent level of renewable electricity provision to meet EU targets for 2020. Last year almost 24 per cent was achieved through wind alone.
In his keynote address, outgoing Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Alex White appealed to communities to embrace wind, saying all sides of the debate must work together.
“We all want to maintain the fabric of life in rural Ireland but we also have to understand that to make progress we need to negotiate,” he said.
Dr Jeanne Moore, policy analyst at the National Economic and Social Council, said giving communities the opportunity to have a say was crucial, whether through community benefit, reduced bills or ownership.
“These options are not currently on the table in Ireland,” she said. “Clearly there needs to be a national policy framework that supports community ownership, community participation, community cooperatives, community benefits . . .”