Concerns mount as plans to build 100 new wind farms take shape
UP to 100 new wind farms will be built over the next seven years, which will utterly transform our landscape.
Energy companies and private sector firms have been offered connections into the national grid which will result in the number of farms doubling, according to data obtained by the Irish Independent.
But a state agency is to conduct in-depth research about noise from wind farms amid mounting concerns from rural communities about the impact on their health.
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) wants experts to produce a report by July in advance of new planning guidelines being drawn up for wind farms.
Currently, almost 1,800 megawatts (MW) of wind generating capacity is installed on the national grid.
But applications have been approved for a significant hike in this amount. One MW produces enough power for about 1,000 homes.
By 2020, another 2,200MW of capacity is expected to be installed. But companies have expressed an interest in building more farms which could produce an additional 13,000MW.
The interest comes as Ireland must produce 40pc of all its electricity needs from renewable energy sources – wind, wave and tidal – by 2020 to meet binding EU targets.
About 15pc of our daily needs are currently produced by wind, ahead of national targets, with wind providing up to 50pc of our energy needs when conditions are right.
Data from the ESB and national grid operator EirGrid shows:
• There are 161 wind farms across the country, producing 1,755MW or enough power for about 1.3 million homes.
• Another 99 are at an advanced planning stage, and have been given dates for when they can connect to the national grid.
• The largest is Seecon near Oughterard in Galway, which will accommodate 23 turbines.
• All 99 farms will produce 1,683MW by 2020.
• Offers for another 600MW to connect to the grid are expected to be made in the next year, bringing the total generating capacity to 4,000MW.
• EirGrid says companies have expressed an interest in building another 13,000MW of capacity – which could result in up to 4,300 turbines being installed.
Ireland spends €6bn on imported fossil fuels every year, with oil accounting for 75pc.
But concern about climate change means that 40pc of all electricity must be produced from renewable sources by 2020, and most will come from wind.
Despite these targets, there is mounting local opposition to plans to construct farms, particularly in the midlands, where two separate plans for large-scale farms to serve the UK market have been proposed.
One is from Mainstream Renewable Power, which plans to build farms producing 5,000MW of power for export to Britain via underground cables.
The second is from Element Power, which has struck a deal with the UK's National Grid to supply it with wind energy from 40 planned farms.
It claims up to 2,000 full-time jobs could be created in the €8bn project, with sites identified in Meath, Westmeath, Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Planning permission is expected to be sought later this year.
SEAI is seeking companies to carry out research as new planning guidelines are drawn up.
Industry lobby group Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) said that in the past 18 months, some 60pc of all planning applications for wind farms were successful.