Windfarm companies are now approaching landowners in the Slieve Bloom mountains to sign up land leases, according to Labour Senator John Whelan.
Sen Whelan has said that he has received complaints from people in two villages. This follows reports that many landowners in Ballyroan and Vicarstown have signed lucrative land option agreements, allowing massive turbines on their land, if planning permission is given.
Last Friday the senator supported a call in the Seanad for a moritorium on windfarms until new legislation is passed this autumn.
His views are in complete contrast to his fellow Labour colleague, Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte, who welcomed the midlands windfarm project, last week saying at a meeting in Tullamore that there was no point getting the planning right and finding no companies left.
“I profoundly disagree. We are not talking about a protracted delay but a six month moritorium. There should be statutory guidelines, consistent throughout the country. The core problem is the 500 metre setback. It is clearly not adequate. The current 2006 guidelines are obsolete as they date back to a time when the largest turbines were 50 metres whereas the newest joint turbines proposed for Laois and the Midlands are 185 metres,” Senator Whelan said.
Speaking in the Seanad last Thursday he said the government was promoting commerce over that of communities.
“This approach is dangerous and wrong. The community and national interest must be embedded in policy. I call on the Government to step back from what appears in some quarters to be a cosy relationship with elements of the private companies that are promoting massive wind farms.
“There are genuine concerns about the scale, social impact and sustainability of existing developments as well as the setback requirements. The idea of proper and meaningful consultation is a farce given that the wind companies are doing secret deals with landowners behind the backs of their neighbours and no one knows precisely what is happening,” he said.
He has gained agreement for a Seanad debate to be held after Easter, which he says will be attended by either the Environment Minister Phil Hogan or junior Minister Jan O’Sullivan.
His call for the moritorium was supported by Senator John Kelly from Roscommon, where a couple have left their house due to wind turbine noise.
“I am sick and tired of listening to the spin of the Irish wind energy sector, including the suggestion of 77,000 jobs. The reality is quite different. In recent weeks in my county, we saw that a couple had to leave their home because of the noise of wind turbines next door. Today, after four years, the company in question finally decided to sit down with the people affected to try to resolve the issue.
“We know that many sweet deals have been done with farmers in the dark of night. We also know there is no social dividend for the people affected by living beside wind turbines. We really need to sit down with them and listen to them,” he said.
Meanwhile the Laois Environment Action Group say the lack of consultation is ‘disrespectful’. Its coordinator Theresa Carter says the group are disappointed that companies planning the windfarms have not yet engaged with the community.
“To ignore the community is disrespectful. With objects as imposing as wind turbines, serious thought and much public consultation must take place. Impact assessments should be carried out on health, the environment, community cohesion, tourism and assets. The price of land, homes and farms will definitely drop in the vicinity of a turbine. An impact assessment on the environment is mandatory. A divided community has the capacity to alter the whole dynamic in a village. Nobody should be blinded by the money being offered. Inflation could soon knock the stuffing out of that,” she said.
Leaf are concerned that no Irish laws exist to govern turbines, just guidelines which have yet to be updated. They foresee problems with “energy security” if the electricity is later sold at a premium price back to Ireland.
“Could we be in the position of having the biggest wind turbines around but no energy to power our own country? No thank you. LEAF is committed to facilitating collaboration so that any energy harvesting in Laois services the domestic supply first,” Ms Carter says.
LEAF regularly host events to explore how Laois can transform for a sustainable future, dealing with food, energy, environment, employment and finance. See www.laoisleaf.com