News Ireland's Changing Climate

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Critics of wind energy 'stoke fake technology fears' despite success

Debate is needed to allay public concerns

Published 24/11/2015 | 02:30

By 2020, some 16pc of all electricity must be generated from renewable sources
By 2020, some 16pc of all electricity must be generated from renewable sources

Public debate about wind energy is being fuelled by misinformation and there is a need to have "consensus-seeking" conversations with communities about the roll-out of turbines.

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Outgoing boss of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), Dr Brian Motherway, told the Irish Independent that more than €100bn was being invested every year in wind energy and there was no question that the technology was "fake" or did not work.

He said that some wind companies had adopted a "cavalier" approach to local communities, but stressed that no more than "40 or 50" new wind farms would be needed to meet ambitious targets to produce power from renewables.

Acknowledging that issues remained around visual impact and noise, he said that difficult choices had to be made unless we planned to continue to burn fossil fuels to produce power.

"We have to recognise there are people living beside wind farms without any difficulties, but very often there are fears about developments. I think we have to have the right kind of debate and consensus-seeking conversations," he said.

"It's a great pity the way the debate on wind has gone. Instead of having an honest debate, some people are more focused on coming up with 'facts' which say it's a fake technology and doesn't do anything.

"But every year, over €100bn is spent on wind energy in China, Japan, the US, Saudi Arabia and by corporates like Google, Apple and Microsoft. If you're to believe that wind is a fake technology, all those governments and corporates are wrong.

"We have to have a conversation about what our preferences are, what we are willing to pay. Or is the proposition to keep importing fossil fuels?"

The latest figures show that in 2013, some 57.8 million tonnes of carbon was produced in Ireland. Of this, energy production accounted for almost 20pc - or 11.3 million tonnes.

The State spends around €6bn every year importing fossil fuels to generate electricity, and Government policy is to increase production from wind, biomass, solar and wave energy to meet the targets.

By 2020, some 16pc of all electricity must be generated from renewable sources.

Dr Motherway said "nobody was talking about covering the country" with turbines, but that emissions from energy production would be 23pc higher per year if wind had not been deployed.

A key part of reducing emissions is to reduce energy consumption and new buildings today are more efficient than those built 15 years ago, using around one-fifth of the energy for heat and light.

In addition, more than 250,000 homes have undergone retrofit programmes, making them warmer and cheaper to heat.

But Dr Motherway said while "major gains" had been made, the pace of change had to quicken.

Climate talks in Paris aimed at securing a deal represented a "major opportunity".

"We know what we need to do, but we need to do more of it and faster. All that takes time to motivate people, but we don't have that time. We need to accelerate the pace of change.

"Our ability to change is greater than in other countries because we're small. We can become providers of solutions."

Dr Motherway will take up a new position with the International Energy Agency in the coming weeks, heading up a new division focusing on energy efficiency.

He said it was a "fantastic opportunity" to bring Irish expertise to a global level, and it was a recognition of what had been achieved.

Irish Independent

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