Comment: Windfarm plans need considered attention

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The ambitious plans for windfarms in the midlands needs careful and considered attention.

The ambitious plans for windfarms in the midlands needs careful and considered attention.

The scale of what is been proposed is immense and, while final details have yet to be decided on, the prospect of something to the order of 400 wind turbines in a county such as Laois is indicative of what is in the pipeline.

And remember that this is only forms part of a massive 2,300 turbine plan to include Offaly, Kildare, Meath and Westmeath, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Minister for Energy, Pat Rabbitte and the UK government last December, to supply renewable electricity to the British grid.

Furthermore, the 185 metre turbines will be the highest on land in the British Isles.

Already, some landowners have signed option agreements to host turbines, receiving an annual payment for each one, as will the local authority.

In the meantime, final decisions will be made by the companies involved on what areas are deemed suitable for the turbines this summer.

A public consultation process will then take place, before planning approval is sought from An Bord Pleanala by the end of the year.

To date the project has been backed by the Irish Farmers Association, Coillte, Bord na Móna, the IDA and the building industry.

The message emanating from a conference on the issue in Tullamore last Friday was that it’s very much game on.

Speaking in Tullamore, Minister for Energy, Pat Rabbitte signalled his commitment to the project and indicated that progress on the midlands windfarm project will not be stalled while planning guidelines are updated. He said a “rigorous formula” will be laid down to govern the windfarms.

Presentations were made by Bord na Móna, and the companies Element Power and Mainstream, all of whom are vying to build windfarms.

They cited the jobs potential, and the availability of large tracts of cutaway bog in the region.

Local concerns and objections have been raised, and have been quite vociferous in areas like Ballyroan.

These concerns are justified and range from fears over ill health, to dropping property prices, and environmental damage, noise and visual pollution.

Already, there are clear signs of some communities lining up on either side of the debate.

This process still has some way to go, but it is clear that it needs a clear, informed and assertive public debate.