Love them or hate them, windmills are back

In the midst of this depressing time in Irish history, there was one good news story this week. The announcement that farmers and householders who generate their own electricity can now sell it back to the national grid is a welcome development.

Ireland isn’t the ‘greenest’ country in the EU and a trip to northern Holland last year was an eye opener as to how our European neighbours take the ‘green’ concept in their stride. But Minister Eamon Ryan’s announcement that the micro-generation of electricity could become an income source (as well as enabling householders and farmers to power their own holdings ) is a step in the right direction.

The plan will boost the rural economy and reduce electricity costs. Among the measures is a guaranteed price of 19 cent per kilowatt hour of electricity produced for the first 4,000 micro-generation installations countrywide over the next three years. Eligible installations include small scale wind, photovoltaic, hydro and combined heat and power.

Traditionally, the electricity network was designed to accommodate the flow of electricity from large centralised plants to customers dispersed throughout the country. Micro-generation at local level now introduces two-way flows to the electricity system. Local generators will have the ability to be paid by the ESB for electricity that is surplus to their own requirements and export it back to the national grid.

For environmentalists the wind mill is an excellent alternative to use of fossil fuels. Ireland should start investing in green energies as a source of industry which could help steer us out of this recession. Yesterday’s announcement was a good start but there is much more to be done. Being an island nation we are perfectly placed to harness our wind and wave energy.

The Council for the West last September called for a much more vigorous and enterprising approach from the Government to extract the enormous potential that ocean technology holds for electricity generation.

Also last year a €2 million investment package to support and develop a grid-connected wave energy test site at Annagh/French Point near Belmullet was announced by Minister Ryan which was part of an overall €26 million investment planned for the ocean energy sector over the next three years.

As a result of a proposal put forward by Ballina Councillor Michelle Mulherin and adopted at a special meeting of Mayo County Council last January, it will be an objective of the Mayo County Development Plan to develop wind energy and other renewable sources of energy, in particular community wind farm projects.

Love them or hate them, wind farms will be featuring more prominently on Mayo soil with huge potential for creating a clean, economical, power resource that will also provide a long-term income stream for landowners.

But back to yesterday’s announcement about electricity generation. The Department of Environment has made small scale generation from low-carbon sources exempt from planning permission. The Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources will continue to work with the Department of Environment on planning issues surrounding renewable energy installations.

Minister Ryan says they are changing the rules and nature of electricity generation in Ireland. Now you can generate for yourself and be paid for the excess you don’t use. This will help to boost rural economies and put money into consumers’ pockets and will reduce the current €6 billion which leaks out of this country on fossil fuels every year.

After all, do we want to be dependant on Russia or Saudi Arabia for our energy needs when we can supply our own?

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