The true cost of wind energy
Sir, – The environmental devastation unfolding in Donegal as a result of a major bogslide originating from the site of a wind farm that is under construction has been widely flagged in the media. Less publicised, however, is the fact that the energy output from this wind farm is contracted to a Dublin-based multinational data-centre operator to underpin and enhance its credentials as an environmentally responsible operation, albeit an energy-guzzling one. This latest incident is in good company. A number of similar events – invariably originating in fragile upland peat – have occurred on other wind farm construction sites, going all the way back to the massive Derrybrien bogslide in the autumn and winter of 2003.
Apart from the huge cost to the east Galway environment, including an estimated 50,000 fish killed, and to the residents of the surrounding farmland, in 2019 this incident ended up costing Irish citizens a European Court of Justice up-front fine of €5 million for the State’s failure to undertake an environmental impact assessment in the 11 years since the court mandated it, and an ongoing daily penalty equivalent to over €5 million per annum until such time as the assessment is completed.
Perhaps it is now time to carry out an all-encompassing cost-benefit analysis of the onshore wind industry, devoid of influence from the Irish Wind Energy Association and the industry’s other cheerleaders? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The latest land slippage associated with wind turbines in Donegal reminds us of the still unfinished saga of Derrybrien in Galway. That resulted in a fine of €5 million in 2019 for the lack of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the wind turbine disaster required by the EU in 2008. While the €5 million has been paid (in February this year), there still remains the daily fine of €15,000, until the last debacle (the lack of an EIA) is cleared up. The State (ie, us citizens) are paying this while the ESB and Coillte are planning a further 1,000 MW from wind turbines by 2030.
This would seem a timely moment to question the efficiency, let alone the environmental impact, of Coillte’s current policy of increasing areas of wind turbines on forestry and bogland. Forest sequestration of carbon will store carbon for centuries in roots and soils; wind turbines may provide irregular energy for, possibly, 25 years.
Coillte says that “forestry is at the heart of what we do; planting, growing, protecting, managing and harvesting.” It, like the Government, has become distracted from this aim by the renewable energy mantra coupled with commercial aims.
As a result, there is little public understanding of the other low-carbon, sustainable energy option for providing the basic supply when the wind is not blowing, nor the sun shining – small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), several of which are nearing completion and would be highly practical for Ireland’s energy requirements.
We should not be talking about a comparison between renewables and nuclear; they have different parts to play in an efficient, low-carbon, reliable electricity system.
Wind and solar are not “on demand”; they are irregular and unreliable. Nuclear should take the reliable, low-carbon, base-load position to replace high-carbon natural gas and provide the necessary back-up to wind and solar. – Yours, etc,