'Wind energy sector must engage with communities over turbines'

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Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

The wind energy sector has been told it must engage in real consultation with communities and avoid "disinformation" if wind turbines are to become acceptable to local people.

Addressing the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) conference, Sinead Dooley, deputy CEO of Irish Rural Link, said that local opposition to the presence of wind turbines arises from poor information, and poor engagement with communities and local government structures.

"In many cases, the wind energy sector failed to engage with people from the earliest opportunity. They often went ahead and drew up plans before consulting anyone," she said.

Ms Dooley saw this in her time as a public representative.

"In many cases I could see the proposed locations were in areas of high amenity or areas of conservation, places they would never get permission for turbines.

"Had they spoken to the local councillor or the planners, they would have been told this. Meanwhile, on the basis of unapproved plans, they had communities up in arms, with neighbour fighting with neighbour."

Ms Dooley also said that leaving gaps in information was a real problem in community engagement. She claimed that such gaps, left by accident or by design, are often filled with disinformation and lead to a real breakdown in trust.

"Community trust, once broken, is very hard to rebuild," she said. "The majority of people want to play their part in the development of alternative energy sources… where wind energy has been developed as a community co-operative it has been a win-win situation."

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Ms Dooley also called for the finalisation of national wind energy guidelines.

"There are no agreed national guidelines for turbines in terms of set-back from dwellings, height and density," she said. "Every local authority area has different rules. This cannot continue."

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