Why wind farms have power to divide country
Development can bring 'tangible benefits' to communities but there are health and wealth fears
COMMUNITIES across the country have objected to wind farms for a variety of reasons.
Perceptions that they can damage your health, negatively affect tourism, devalue property and damage the local economy are among the most common reasons for resistance.
An analysis of these concerns demonstrates that some grounds for objection have more merit than others.
The health issue is probably the most controversial when it comes to wind farms.
Experts differ on whether 'wind turbine syndrome' – symptoms of which include sleep deprivation, anxiety and nausea – is a real syndrome or is the product of psychological fears.
And while the majority of research concludes turbines don't affect human health, not everyone agrees.
Professor Alun Evans of Queens University Belfast, for example, wrote a paper for the British Medical Journal arguing that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health.
There have already been some horror stories where residents have complained that turbines were simply located too close to their homes.
"If we could sell our house tomorrow we would," said office worker Phil Hickey (52).
He is referring to the rural home he and his wife Catherine (49) built in Ballindaggin, Co Wexford, which is 370m away from a 120m-high turbine, one of four which are visible from their windows.
There are six turbines in the wind farm altogether. It got planning permission in 2007 after the couple missed a deadline for objection, as they were not aware of what was coming.
If new regulations being introduced by the Government had been in place at the time, it would not have got the go-ahead. These will require new turbines to be at least 500 metres from dwellings.
Mr Hickey said he continually suffered from sleep loss due to the noise from the turbines. "The electrical hum is the killer. That is a constant thing."
He said the house was hit by shadow flicker due to the low winter sun from October to February. "The flicker would make you feel sick. It is like strobe lighting going through the property," he said.
The Irish Doctors' Environmental Association supports wind energy, provided it is developed correctly.
There hasn't been much recent research on the potential impact of wind farms on tourism.
But there is certainly much less concern about wind farms among the industry than there is about electricity pylons.
This may be down to the fact that, as concluded in a Sustainable Energy Ireland report, people's attitudes to wind farms are influenced by the perception that wind is an attractive and clean source of energy.
The most comprehensive Irish survey on tourist attitudes to wind farms was conducted by Lansdowne Market Research for Failte Ireland in 2008.
It questioned 1,300 tourists about their attitude to wind farms in Ireland.
The vast majority of visitors saw it as a positive development for Ireland and did not feel a wind farm was a negative addition to the landscape.
Almost half of the tourists interviewed had seen a wind farm on their holiday here, but most of those said their presence did not detract from the quality of their sightseeing.
Only one in six felt they had a negative impact.
However, location is a key factor and there was greater relative negativity towards wind farms located on coastal landscapes, mountains and farmland than there was to those on bogland or industrial land.
Value of property
The impact wind farms have on property values is one which tends to split communities down the middle.
There are big upsides for those owning land on which wind farms are built, but there can also be huge downsides.
Although property owners who allow turbines to be built on their land run the risk of devaluing it, the compensation they receive is "more than adequate to cover any potential devaluation".
That is the view of agricultural consultant and valuer Dick Collins. However, he said it was a different story if you own land adjacent to a wind farm.
"Unless the structure is on your land, there is no entitlement to any compensation," Mr Collins said – adding there had been a British study which said the devaluation of such land could be up to 30pc.
But he said it was not realistic to put a blanket figure on property devaluations.
"There is no doubt the land would lose value, but the scale depends on a variety of factors such as the value of the property to start with, the impact of the turbines and how many of them there are," he said.
Another long-standing expert in the area, John Earley of Property Partners Earley in Roscommon, estimates the value of a house located close to a turbine can decrease by 50pc or more.
He said: "This has been my experience with properties within half a mile of turbines."
Impact on the local economy
Apart from depressing property prices, the economic impact of a wind farm on a locality can be quite positive.
Almost every firm developing wind farms in Ireland says they rely heavily on local building contractors and suppliers.
Take the example of energy provider SSE. It says it has a policy of supporting local enterprises in the development and construction of new wind farms, including small, local family-owned businesses, sole-traders, specialist engineering and environmental enterprises.
It cites the example of its Slieve Kirk Wind Park across the Border in Co Derry, where €43m of the €150m spent on the project went to 70 local suppliers within an 80km radius.
It estimates around €115m will be spent to the benefit of local businesses on proposed wind energy developments in Cork, Kerry and Galway in the next few years.
The company says each of its wind farm projects creates around 250 on-site construction jobs, two-thirds of whom are people living within 25km of each project site.
The funding of community facilities and clubs has also become a common aspect of any wind farm development, and does much to dampen opposition. For example, over €500,000 has been dispersed to local causes by the Meentycat wind farm in Co Donegal since 2002. The same wind farm has also paid commercial rates totalling €6m to Donegal County Council in the same period.
John Moriarty, a civil engineer who has worked on many wind farm projects, said there could be "tangible benefits" for communities.