IRELAND has set very high renewable energy targets and is on course to meet them, but at what cost? It is now time to rethink our energy policy.
The wind lobby seems to have successfully convinced the current administration that pursuing a Green Party/Fianna Fail policy is in the best interests of the country.
Wind farming to date has been developer led, with site selection based on the most economical option. ESB Networks follows with the infrastructure, and the taxpayer picks up the bill.
In contrast, opposition in the UK has resulted in the British government rowing back on its onshore wind programme, meaning it is unable to meet its renewable energy targets.
In 2011 Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged the authorities here to construct wind farms on the west coast. Two private companies, Element Power and Mainstream Renewable Power, and the state-owned Bord Na Mona, have now announced plans for up to 3,000 turbines in the midlands to export power to the UK.
I believe the continued expansion of wind power in Ireland may only be possible if an export market exists, due to the associated ancillary infrastructural costs.
Most people are used to seeing relatively small wind turbines set on hills in the distant background. A setback distance from neighbouring dwellings of 500m was, and is, recommended in guidelines dating back to 2006.
But low wind speeds in the midlands will require much bigger turbines of 180m or more. In the first draft of new guidelines issued this year, the setback distance has not increased in tandem with the evolving technology – it has remained at 500m.
Noise has driven some residents from their homes, homes which may be worth significantly less after wind farm developers move into the area. Indeed, one of the first questions many prospective purchasers in the midlands are now asking is: "Are wind farms planned in the vicinity?"
Industrialisation of a rural landscape on this scale is likely to have a polarising effect on property values and people. However, the people are mobilising. Community groups are forming throughout the country and now number in the hundreds.
The justification for this imposition on communities is primarily based around job creation.
A recent report commissioned by turbine manufacturer Siemens and the Irish Wind Energy Association has concluded that up to 35,000 jobs could be created in Ireland in the wind industry.
Based on the industry standard of 0.3 permanent jobs per turbine, this will require more than 100,000 turbines.
A study by Verso Economics in the UK, undertaken in 2011, concluded that for every job created in the wind industry, 3.7 jobs were lost. This year it also emerged that every job in the wind industry in Scotland is subsidised to the tune of £100,000 per annum.
Ireland's demand for electricity peaked in January 2010 at 5040 megawatts (MW), on what was an exceptionally cold day. Wind averaged 50 MW.
Wind is unpredictable, and despite massive subsidies, developers at times complain of poor wind years and correspondingly poor cash flows.
Ireland rightly seeks to secure its future energy supply, but this supply should involve a varied and flexible energy mix. The cheapest and cleanest energy of all is that which is not used. Retro-fitting existing and new homes could create real sustainable jobs.
Only after we have addressed our energy efficiency should we even contemplate any more wind penetration, let alone be faced with this ludicrous plan to meet Britain's environmental commitments.
ANDREW DUNCAN IS A QUALIFIED AUCTIONEER WITH A BSC IN PROPERTY STUDIES FROM DIT BOLTON STREET. BASED IN MULLINGAR, HE IS A FINE GAEL CANDIDATE IN THE UPCOMING LOCAL ELECTIONS. HE IS ALSO THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE LAKELANDS WINDFARM INFORMATION GROUP.