IWEA: ‘How we’ve engaged with communities in the past is not the way’

The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) has said that how the industry has engaged with communities in the past is “not the way to do it”, referring to those negatively impacted by the development of wind farms.

The association’s head of communications and public affairs Justin Moran also confirmed that a new focus on community and public engagement would ensure that relations between residents and developers will improve “going forward” as wind energy gets set to step up a gear in this country.

Moran’s comments come in the aftermath of the publication of a series of articles by AgriLand in which community groups from Donegal to Kerry laid bare the difficulties both they and the local environment now face as a direct result of wind farm developments in their area.

He also pointed out that the latest phase of the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) – which the organisation anticipates will be up and running early next year – will place an obligation on all wind farm developers to offer an investment opportunity to people in the community.

IWEA, meanwhile, is a trade association that represents companies involved in the planning and development of wind farms in Ireland. It represents all the big players in the industry including Brookfield, Coillte, Bord na Móna, ESB and SSE.

‘Bridging the great divide’

Speaking about the fallout between developers and communities Moran said there was “an acceptance” in the industry that the way in which member companies engaged with communities in the past “was not the way”.

There would be an acceptance in the industry that the way in which we engaged with communities in the past – and the way we have engaged with communities – is not the way to be doing it.

He continued: “Wind farm developers need to realise that the people who live in these areas have been there long before they arrived.”

Moran went on to say that it was public knowledge now that situations have arisen in rural Ireland where, when locals tried to explain to developers why they simply could not place a wind turbine in a particular area or on a specific piece of land, communication subsequently broke down.

“We need to listen to what local people are saying to us. We all know there are cases where developers came in and locals were able to tell them that they would not be able to put a wind turbine in such and such a location for whatever civic or environmental reason it was,” he added.

Developers very often don’t know these things and the feedback from the community is very, very important in all of this.

“Engaging with the community and sharing knowledge will result in a more effective project for everybody concerned.

“Information that is given in an open, transparent, accessible and a factually correct way is the way forward and results in a better experience for everyone.

“We need to be more conscious of doing that.”