Saturday 23 November 2019

Concerns over wind farms are not just all hot air

ILOVE windy weather. Trees shake, fields shiver, and the river out back races. It feels like you might get whisked off at any minute to see the Wizard of Oz.

It's an ill wind that blows no good. But concerns about Ireland's rapidly growing wind farm industry aren't just bluster. We need to be careful not to lay on our land ugly monstrosities of questionable productivity.

The signs are good that we realise this. An Bord Pleanala recently overruled planning permission for a development in Moycullen, Co Galway, citing the area's archaeological heritage and the risk of peat slippage.

The project involved 14 turbines, each of 140m in height. To put the residents' concerns in perspective, the turbines would have been double the height of the proposed National Children's Hospital, which was ruled against largely due to street height.

It's not that the locals are against renewable energy; they didn't object to a 60-turbine wind farm for nearby Cloosh Valley. But peace of mind also matters.

Something residents in Roscommon understand all too well. They complain of the draw from two turbines of 100ft high, and the loud noise. Perhaps most pertinent is the fact, as one homeowner put it, that "it's just there all the time".

The Irish Wind Energy Association huffs and puffs about the "threat" from placing mandatory restrictions on the distances of turbines from homes. But what about the threat to quality of life?

Wind energy is cited as the green and clean way for the future, but some of the claims are hot air. Turbines are expensive to build and need to be replaced every 25 years. Moreover, they only work at maximum capacity for a third of the time. Meaning they have to be backed up by other technologies, such as coal and nuclear.

Ireland's stunning countryside is one of our greatest assets. Yet turbines, which can be as tall as the spire on Dublin's O'Connell Street, usually have to be sited in areas of outstanding natural beauty. Ecological drawbacks also include damage to habitats.

There's more than a whiff of deja vu about the industry's promise of 8,000 jobs; didn't the builders dangle that carrot? How many jobs will be lost because of the effect of these eyesores on tourism?

Surely a major factor driving this multi-billion industry is the money available to it in subsidies and grants. But who will ultimately pay the price?

Opponents believe we could end up with 'ghost' wind farms due to an oversupply, if and when subsidies end. Many believe we should refocus towards wave and tidal energy.

Choosing the right renewable energy is no breeze. But will the Government make the same mistake as it did with the construction industry?

Let's hope the answer isn't blowing in the wind.

Sunday Independent

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