Shares for locals may help curtail wind farm opposition
LOCAL communities should be offered the chance take a stake in wind farms to help break the impasse between developers and local residents over the controversial projects.
A report to the Government also says that developers should be obliged to consult with communities before seeking planning permission, and agreements registered with the energy regulator to ensure they are complied with.
The 'Wind Energy in Ireland: Building Community Engagement and Social Support' report from the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) says Ireland faces an "extraordinary challenge" in moving its energy system from one based on fossil fuels to one dominated by renewable energy.
One of its key ideas is to give homeowners living near proposed wind farms opportunities to buy shares in the project – and thereby afford them the opportunity to benefit from any financial gains.
Public support for projects is "more critical" than in the past, the NESC warns.
"Irish people have generally been supportive of wind energy growth and of electricity infrastructure, but recently there has been a more critical public mood. This signals something of a sea change in social support for wind energy and related infrastructure," it says.
"There is now a more critical public mood, as evidenced by concern about the scale, location and type of development, and increased public debate in relation to wind energy and grid infrastructure.
"Even though 80pc of the Irish public reportedly support wind power, the public discourse reveals a growing opposition to wind-energy projects in some parts of the country and to the high-voltage transmission lines and pylons that support the growth of the sector.
"It seems that real efforts must be made to think about how to generate participation with the ability to influence decision-making."
Local people should be allowed invest in projects if they choose, with the report noting that such schemes have been successful in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.
"From the community engagement process, it may be suitable to draw up a local area energy plan, establish an energy co-operative or agree a settlement which included an element of community benefit, equity share or joint venture," the report says.
"If successfully concluded, any settlement would be registered with an appropriate body such as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland or Commission for Energy Regulation.
"This combination of a required but flexible process of engagement... provides what we believe to be a positive way forward for Irish wind-energy development."
National policy would be required to facilities the measures, it added.