Battle lines finally drawn in Midland windfarm debate

Deputy Willie Penrose speaking in Ballynacarrigy at the constituency’s Labour Party AGM this week.

Deputy Willie Penrose speaking in Ballynacarrigy at the constituency’s Labour Party AGM this week.

A local Labour TD has firmly nailed his colours to a 130m mast, when he publicly declared his opposition to the windfarm proposed for the Midlands at a meeting this week, but was contradicted on a number of points in a later address by the CEO of the firm behind the project.

“This is not going to be taken lying down. We’re no patsies here,” says Deputy Willie Penrose at the AGM of the Labour Party’s Longford-Westmeath branch in Ballynacarrigy on March 22.

“Windfarms are an inefficient source of energy and plans for a major ‘wind park’ in the Midlands will be strongly resisted,” he said, re-iterating his call from two weeks ago to triple the statutory distance between a turbine and a home from 500m to 1,500m.

“There’s no local benefit to large-scale windfarms in the Midlands and the people should not be bought for a few items for the local football pitch. The current guidelines are over 30 years old and do not reflect the sheer scale and size of new turbines, some of which can be 184 metres high,” he said.

He said a lot of farmers were being dragged into the debate, setting neighbours against neighbours and brothers against brothers, and there would be no community dividends from this, Deputy Penrose predicted.

However, speaking at the 20th annual conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association, on Tuesday March 26 the CEO of the firm behind the project, Tim Cowhig of Greenwire, called for “facts and balance” to be brought to the windfarm debate.

“One argument being repeated by those opposed to wind energy is that the 2006 Best Practice Guidelines for the industry were conceived when the typical height of a wind turbine was only 56 metres, when in fact, the average height securing planning permission at that time was approximately 120 metres,” he said.

“In the mid-1990s when wind was first being seriously viewed as a genuine alternative to fossil fuels in Ireland, there was a proliferation of cynicism and negativity towards the sector, and it was claimed we would never get more than 5 per cent of our electricity from wind and it would be damaging to the environment. We now have almost 20 per cent from renewables and are on course to reach 40 per cent by 2020 with thousands of people employed in the sector,” he said.

“There is no question of Britain ‘dumping’ wind turbines in Ireland, and the UK continues to pursue a pro-wind agenda building 1,700 megawatts last year alone, and aiming for 12,000 megawatts of onshore wind by 2020,” he added.

“Not unlike our beef and dairy industries where we produce much more than we consume ourselves and export readily, we can do likewise with wind energy generating a substantial return to Ireland Inc in the process,” concluded Mr Cowhig.

In 2011 the Irish annual fossil fuel import bill was €6bn, with oil accounting for 75 per cent of this.

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