Putting the wind farm applications through the
principles of the Programme For Government
Health and Well-being
Wind farms reduce the quality of life, health and mental health of people living nearby. We have all seen the videos of families fastening duvets and layers of other sound-proofing material to their windows and living in incessant darkness, rather than try and ignore the vibration and whirr of the blades. These are not some small cottage-style mills turned naturally by the wind, they use grid power to start them up. They need an engine.
They are outdated technology. Elsewhere in Europe, wind power is generated in horizontal dishes, that are visually inconspicuous, require less foundations, do not threaten birdlife etc. Ireland is continuing to buy the windmills made that no one else wants and are considered redundant.
Also there is off-shore wind, which the UK, for example, has installed to provide 10 gigawatts of power (one gigawatt can power 300,000 homes). Off-shore wind could belong to its coastal community, and provide jobs and cheap energy.
Planning and Spending
The cost of wind has come down over the last decade by 70% but solar has come down by 900%. It is my understanding that if farmers were grant-funded to install solar on their barns and feed it back to the grid, it would produce at least as much as this massive unwanted wind farm in Co. Kilkenny.
Farmers are being led on by the carrot but beaten back by the stick: They are only allowed to generate enough power through solar panel installations to run their operation plus 30% which can be sold to the grid. There is no reason in the world except for money interests why they should be limited to 30%.
Programme for government:
“Develop a Solar Energy Strategy for rooftop and ground, based photovoltaics, to ensure that a greater share of our electricity needs is met through solar power.”
Our entire power needs could be provided by individually-owned rooftop photovoltaics. Our renewable resources are far larger than their foreseeable demand. This means that we cannot only deliver the electricity needs of the country but also the transport needs, via electricity, of the country from the available, viable renewable resource. When I surveyed farmers and asked what was the main thing, which would engage them in the green transition, they identified this pointless limitation which made the retrofit and related schemes too much work for the arbitrarily small benefits.
Making An Objection
Lets look at the wind farm companies who have made the planning applications There are several companies who applied simultaneously during the lockdown for different parts of the massive Kilkenny wind farm. This means that not one objection will suffice but the public must pay to object to each separately and support those objections with new biodiversity and other environmental reports. Each one is hugely expensive and time consuming. People are jaded here. We fought this wind farm application 10 years ago. We fought the Eirgrid pylon fiasco ten years ago. Maybe we will be able to track down the groups and get copies of the supporting environmental reports but more than likely those people have gone to ground, like everyone during the pandemic.
Programme For Government:
“Finalise and publish the Wind Energy Guidelines, having regard to the public consultation that has just taken place.”
This suggests that the government does want to regard public opinion in its planning. Perhaps they would ask An Bord Pleanala to look out (from their own archives) all the work done and submissions made last time that succeeded in blocking the wind farm development.
And has the public seen the “finalized and published Wind Energy Guidelines”? Maybe more importantly, do the wind farm planning applications demonstrate knowledge of and a will to adhere to those guidelines?
But back to these wind farm companies. Before permission is granted, we must find out if the companies are here on a foreign direct investment basis. I found out that all the Gaeltec wind farm engineers were from Portugal and not one Irish person was employed – except perhaps in management. Who will pay them? Are they government subsidized, under the illusion of contributing to Ireland’s climate action objectives? Will they pay tax and at what percent?
Programme for government
“We are all committed to the rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector. We will use this as an opportunity to create new, quality jobs across the country.”
I don’t believe that the wind farm will create new quality jobs across the country, whereas solar really could. Any number of electricians and small manufacturers could produce and install solar panels and other micro generation schemes – including water and wind. These are also to be encouraged, as per the Programme for Government:
“Prioritise the development of microgeneration, letting people sell excess power back to the grid by June 2021.”
These priorities are shown through farm scheme payments but to what and to whom do we owe the pleasure of this re-application for the much feared giant wind farms. They are not microgeneration and differently to the set price per unit for private grid tie units, we need to know if these major providers will be paid the same per unit for the power their wind farms generate?
Why, we must ask, is Ireland not pursuing off-shore wind instead? Is it because the companies making applications are intending to use out-dated technology that was otherwise going to be stock-piled elsewhere? Is it that they do not have the capability to install off-shore wind? Are these wind farms being applied for again because Fine Gael wanted to give the companies the contracts a decade ago and now see an opportunity to get them through, under the guise of meeting a Green Party stipulation for going into Government? There has been no upgrade in technology or change in planning site from the last application to this year’s.
Current contract prices, in off-shore wind are still going down and are already at €40 per MW/h. The problems of intermittency and inter-seasonality of renewables are talked about as a problem but found to not actually affect the cost greatly. The figures of 56-73 MW/h for on-shore wind, 53-56 MW/h for large scale solar and 69-85 MW/h per MWh for off-shore wind are ‘enhanced levelized costs’ by BEIS, which means that they include any pessimistic calculations as to intermittency of supply. Therefore, the argument is over on cost. Why are these on-shore wind farms being pushed? There is no question that the public consultation will have pointed out the problems.
Programme for government:
“Ensure that community energy can play a role in reaching at least 70% renewable electricity, including a community benefit fund and a community category within the auction.”
I don’t know what ‘the auction’ is but wind farms have no community energy role. They are as bad as Shell, with no community discount on energy bills, no community involvement in generating the energy, local people installing the windmills or other infrastructure, let alone allowing the community to form a green business plan, as in a way to make an income from the installation.
Somebody will have to find out if the energy generated is actually Irish owned or if we continue to pay the companies or some other corporation beyond our revenue’s visibility. I’m sure Transparency and Accountability are in the Programme for Government somewhere but I didn’t come across it this time.
It does say:
“Continue to work with the EU to agree community participation as an integral part of installing new renewable energy and a route for community participation in the projects”.
The only public participation in wind farms is in objecting to them. (This is on a multitude of various personal, health, biodiversity, other environmental and economic terms such as the reduction in the value of their properties and being unable to sell and move elsewhere, when it becomes unbearable.
Only the land owners will receive a one-off payment for their land: A payment I’m sure they couldn’t refuse, seeing as, of our 180,000 small farmers over 100,000 of them are sustained by subsidies. In our objections we can ask whether there is that “community benefit fund” set up, as promised, for us all to benefit from this series of planning applications. If not, let’s not deliver planning permission for them.
Future trends and risks. When we hear that solar is the way we want to go, really, rather than on-shore wind, in terms of what people want and this marked reduction in cost over time (900% decrease for solar, only 70% for wind), alongside the statement in the Programme For Government:
“Conclude the review of the current planning exemptions relating to solar panels, to ensure that households, schools, and communities can be strong champions of climate action.”
It makes us ask, are these messages getting through to local planning offices, or An Bord Pleanala, let alone Eirgrid?
Programme For Government:
“Continue Eirgrid’s programme ‘Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Electricity System’ (DS3).”
Hundreds of people attempted to address Eirgrid’s scheme to put high voltage pylons all across Ireland. They set communities against each other by proposing four ‘possible corridors’ through County Kilkenny, leaving it to us to engage experts and locals (neither are at all easy to engage and it will be even harder a second time), to find the species and risks and damage that the corridor would do in their stretch and make objections. Each group incurred individual costs and huge strain as we were unable to share data with other groups, as the priority was to at least get Eirgrid to choose another corridor to ruin. With any joined up thinking, the 400 volt lines would have been laid underground beside the road, when they built the new motorway 12 months earlier.
Why are wind farms not good for people or the environment?
It is interesting because I can always be bothered to defend people, animals and nature but this evening I can hardly be bothered to articulate again, all the problems with wind farms. Think about how deep a foundation they have and the materials used. Think about the electro magnetic charge conducted through the land, disorientating flying birds and insects and often electrocuting grazing animals and other less visible disruption to their systems. What about the effects on aquifers and ground water. What about the additional infrastructure needed. What about the people trying to live nearby. There are countless studies about these exact sites for which planning permission is being sought again. Kilkenny and Carlow county council Planning Departments have all they need to refuse these re-applications.
Even personally, I have paid over 300 euro to object to Eirgrid’s plans, in the past. Over 50 euro to object to Gaeltec wind company. Over 150 euro to object to Shell. Is the government sure it wants public participation? If they really do, they should make sure individuals do not have to pay to lodge an objection. It would be really helpful if they also did not allow these detrimental developments get this far. What if there was a Canadian company? With the new trade deal CETA, we might not be able to refuse them as it would affect their profits.
Who knows what happened to those objections we all made to the wind farms. My dream is that (instead of many of them by email being deleted and those by post ignored) by great chance, the ‘public consultation’ mentioned in the programme for government, included a review of these all-important, well-founded, documented and submitted objections, to previous applications. That would be brilliant.
It does seem a little incongruous that, in the Programme For Government, it commits to “Planning guidelines and biodiversity protection for EV charging points” but not for huge great pylons, wind farms and wifi masts.
Can we put the onus back on government and An Bord Pleanala to look at peer reviewed studies on the environmental and health impact of wind farms, the ratio of energy used to start them and the amount generated - as many communities report that the windmills in their vicinity are rarely moving or working. Alternative newer wind technology. Why not off-shore instead? Respond to why these companies were even allowed to apply again. Comparison and consideration of increased solar sales to grid as an allowance for farmers, coastal communities sale to the national grid, for off shore wind power generated and household solar panel grants also grid-tied if wanted (and not such that the household has to get a €10,000 loan first and still not be repaid it, if it turns out that their after-the-installation BER rating is not good enough, which is what is happening currently). And a government statement about whether the companies are Ireland inc. Foreign Direct Investment recipients who will, like so many others, pay no road tax for their profitable drive-by, supermarket sweep through Ireland’s struggling economy.
These are all commitments in the Programme For Government and we would like to see them met instead of permissions considered for wind farm developments.
Could we add to these commitments that risk reports from all big developments build on the horizon-scanning work that the Government Office of Science undertakes. If Ireland has a Government Office of Science? I hope it isn’t just the big electricity and technology firms conducting the health and safety research, is it?
If government really wants ‘a revolution in renewables’ they will not allow wind- power technology that was redundant and outdated ten years ago to be installed now.
Further related promises:
These are four more things we have been promised: Sustained leadership from Government and the Oireachtas. Sustained engagement with citizens, sectors, and regions. Support for the workers, sectors, and regions most exposed, in order to help them to benefit from the new economic opportunities afforded to us by the transition to a low-carbon, digital economy. Protection for vulnerable families and communities least equipped to make the transformation.
And yes, here it is: “Develop a new model of engagement with citizens, ● Dialogue on a structured basis, so that the diverse elements of society can contribute to the process. ● A process of accountability on progress, including an annual review. ● The promotion of citizen, sectoral and regional involvement in delivering actions within their own sphere of influence.”
Let’s see if we can hold government to their own vision for a green and just transition.
(And, for starters, stop the onshore wind farm plans permanently. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. I think we’ve made this quite clear in Kilkenny already).