‘Professional objectors cashing in’ on wind farm developments

The Irish Wind Farmers’ Association (IWFA) said this week that “professional objectors” are destroying Ireland’s attempts to produce efficient wind energy and reduce its carbon footprint.

Grattan Healy is the chairperson of IWFA which is Ireland’s representative body and lobby group for independent wind farmers.

He says there are approximately 250 wind farmers in the country at the moment. He also pointed to the fact that “there would be more” were it not for the damage being done by “professional objectors”.

Meanwhile, Healy says that many of IWFA’s members have developed private wind farms on their own land. In some cases, he added, groups of farmers have come together in their respective communities and established wind farms as part of a concerted effort.

There is a lot of respect for these wind farmers because they are already well established in their communities.

He continued: “They understand the environment and the various habitats in the area, and they show great care and consideration to everyone. Usually, these type of wind farms are developed properly. The guys do try, though, not to discombobulate their neighbours, damage the environment or harm habitats.”

‘Professional objectors’

Healy says that one of the biggest threats to communities at the moment is not the development of wind farms but the falsehoods about these developments that are being pushed upon them. He describes this as “professional objectors”.

We have a group running around the country aggravating communities and encouraging them to complain about, and object to, wind farms; they are agitating people.

He went on to say that a friend of his built a wind farm in the south of the country. Planning was refused initially but the project was appealed to An Bord Pleanala and planning was subsequently granted.

“What is interesting about this farm is that once it was built there were a couple of small things that needed tweaking and my friend went to the local authority, explained what he needed to do, and was then given the go ahead to get on with things,” Healy continued.

“Next thing was the professional objector down there knocked on my friend’s door and said: ‘Sorry, you can’t get authority from the council because you got the planning permission from An Bord Pleanala, so you must get the go ahead from it.’ My friend is now five years in and out of court.”

Libel and liability

Another issue that is important to highlight, Healy says, is that when a member of the public takes an environmental case to court they are not held liable for costs, even in instances where they lose the case.

“This is also a perfect scenario for the professional objector; people are turning up to object from maybe 200 miles away. They have no interests at all in the project and the planning is nothing to do with them, but they are the ones that are in and out of the country’s local authorities and An Bord Pleanala complaining and objecting to everything,” the IWFA chairman continued.

We would have twice as many wind farms in this country if it wasn’t for these people.

“There are lots of people that would develop their own wind farm but for all this objective nonsense. It’s all about taking money off farmers. But what is the real outcome then? There is a standoff between developers and objectors; delays with planning; and misunderstandings all over the place.”

Healy also claimed that lobby groups were “scaremongering” about wind farms.

Wind energy

The local expert said wind energy was cheap to produce, reduced carbon emissions, and that when it came to the environment, developers knew exactly what they were doing.

Last week, AgriLand reported a number of issues – including environmental – from around the country, that had come to light, after planning applications were made to An Bord Pleanala and local authorities for wind farms.

Healy says that if the wind farm is developed within the perimeters of the planning regulations, “there really shouldn’t be any problems”.

He does admit, though, that pollution and shadow flicker can be problematic.    

“We all know that, for example, if barriers aren’t done correctly on wind farms then you do get damage to rivers; yes, there is also shadow flicker from the turbines – it’s not that bad, but yes it is there. We also know that you don’t put wind farms in nesting areas,” he added.

“If a local authority or An Bord Pleanala grants planning in an area that is environmentally sensitive then that is a wreckless thing to do; it is not the developers fault though – that is the fault of the planning authority.”

Planning permissions

Healy went on then to say that there were “problems” with planning in Ireland and, in particular, in the area of objection.

He said the whole area needed to be examined and a brand new set of rules and regulations established.

We need to change how people can object to developments.

He continued: “I have spoken to Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton about this – people must be made to prove that they have an interest in a planning application before they can object.”

National energy and climate plan

Meanwhile, IWFA is highly critical of the draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) which was launched by the minister last December.

The plan aims to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions by 22 metric tonnes and promises to increase the country’s renewable power generation from 30% nationally, to at least 55% through solar, wind and biomass energy generation.

Also included in the plan is the removal of peat and coal for electricity generation.

“We are a wealthy country and could be a leading renewable energies country if we wanted to. Wind farm developers having been trying for years to get things up and running, but no sooner do they get planning permission than the grid is taken away from them.

“Then it takes another 10 years before that is operational. It’s very unacceptable what is going on and very difficult to achieve anything in this country.

Ireland is a country that is absolutely negligent in terms of our emissions.

Healy went on to say that if the Government genuinely wanted to engage people in a positive plan for a cleaner, more secure future, then “it has singularly failed with this draft NECP”.

“It follows many other similarly weak plans and an unmitigated failure to achieve results so far. This draft plan, as it stands, indicates more failure going forward. It is utterly depressing. The failure is primarily political,” Healy continued.

“The targets indicated, for renewables in particular, the need to be considerably increased so that we start to make some inroads into the problem. This will partly compensate for the significantly more difficult problem of reducing agricultural emissions.”

Seaweed

Healy then pointed out how carbon emissions from animals is also contributing to Ireland’s high carbon footprint.

He insists that while he is not anti-farming “we have to stop doing this”.

I’m not anti-agriculture but wind is the new grass and in order for this country to lower its emissions all sectors need to be cleaned up.

He added: “Only then will we achieve something and something very positive indeed.”

Healy also says that seaweed is another important component in the overall effort to reduce carbon emissions.

“Seaweed is full of nutrients and could be fed to animals; it is totally healthy and emissions would reduce very quickly. It would also allow this country to keep its agriculture technique while at the same time affording all of us the opportunity to lower emissions,” the IWFA chairman concluded.

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