1,000 farmers sign Midlands wind farm contracts, committee hears

Some 1,000 farmers in the Midlands have signed long-lease agreements with wind farm companies, an Oireachtas Environment Committee heard yesterday.

The Lakelands Wind Farm Information Group (LWFIG) was presenting its findings to the committee and it claimed significant anecdotal evidence that many of the  farmers are now seeking to opt-out.

Currently plans are under way by two wind farm companies, Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power, to develop 80,000 mega watt wind electricity for export to the UK. The committee heard these developments will involved the construction of 2,400 industrial turbines in the Midlands in the coming years. The plans are subject to Government export licence approval and strategic environmental assessments (SEAs). Planning applications are set to be submitted by the end of 2014 in each county when SEAs are completed.

The LWFIG raised numerous concerns at the committee yesterday, in terms of noise emissions, setback distances, rural landscape, land price, farmer and health impacts.

“If these go ahead many communities will be surrounded by clusters of wind farms, with turbines allowed at only 500 metres at a resident’s front or back door. We represent the majority view in Ireland which is in favour of renewable energy and we are absolutely not anti-wind. We consider ourselves as rational and objective but there has been an absence of any formal consultation,” its spokesman Andrew Durkan of LWFIG. “Our objective is to cut through the spin that was out there…this is more than a backyard development.”

He said many rural communities are divided on the issue. Many farmers have signed long-lease agreements and the communities have only now be told afterwards, he said. The LWFIG is seeking “an amnesty for farmers who wish to withdraw from wind farm contracts”.

“We believe they have not sought sufficient independent legal advice,” Durkan claimed. “In essence of communities and the Midlands in particular feel they are being besieged by aggressive wind farm developers who are exploiting weak and outdated guidelines aswell as a lack of specific legislation to cover wind development.”

Solicitor Nora Fagon, also with LWFIG, claimed “farmers were being conned”. “To bring a local example with what is happening in Westmeath, I had another farmer standing in my kitchen yesterday evening extremely distressed to discover when he had been told a turbine of approximately 75 meters was going to put on his residential farm. He discovered from newspaper information that in fact the project was a 185-metre wind turbine. Farmers have been conned.”

She claimed farmers have been told that can expect to gain income in the region of €1m over the next 30 years if they chose to pledge one hectare of land to a wind farm company. “However the actual options and leases they sign up to are grossly different to those representations. So unfortunately that is why so many of these options have been signed up where communities are hard pressed, margins and tighter and they see this as a means to educate their children through to third-level.”

In addition, she noted wind farm companies can sell on their land-lease agreements to a third party.

“Normally in a lease, the farmer/landowner retains full control as to who the subsequent tenants are going will be on the lands. What is particularly unusual in these agreements is that control on the assignment of the lease is not in the lease. Therefore the farmers has absolutely no control over a third-party multinational investor.” She referred to a recent case in Leitrim where a farm option was sold to a multinational retailer as an example.

The LWFIG is also seeking clear timetable of the SEAs, a comprehensive review of current wind energy legislation and a planning moratorium to put in place until full and compressive compliance is insured.

Durkan, who is also an auctioneer, also referred to studies in the UK where a 25 per cent reduction in land prices were noted within 2km of wind farm areas. “If there are consequences after, the State may well face compensation claims,” he added.

Dr Chris Hanning, consultant in sleep disorders medicine at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, UK, spoke on the impact of wind farm noise on sleep. He called for a setback distance of 1.5km. “That estimate is based on existing research on real human beings and real wind farms,” he said.

International noise consultant Dick Bowdler said in rural areas a different level of assessment must be taken into account because of the quieter environment. He also noted the setback distance must examine night-time affects.

Related: €4.7bn wind energy investment as minister blasts ‘misinformation’

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