On a spin home from Lismore recently, I embarked upon a road less travelled, turning off the N72, driving beyond Ballinameela and onto the Drum Hills, to the ESB’s €33 million Woodhouse Wind Farm.
On what was a fresh, clear evening, the view from the hilltop, with Dungarvan and the Ring Peninsula to my right and the Knockmealdowns on my left, felt God-given. The breeze was strong while the whir emanating from the eight turbines nearby was barely negligible. Now perhaps that isn’t always the case when standing where I stood that particular evening but I know what I heard: precious little.
As someone born and reared in the countryside and as someone who still lives in a rural area – and happily so – wind energy is something I’ve heard a great deal about over the past half dozen years or more.
But as someone who spends at least two days a week within proximity of the two turbines in Beallough (Portlaw) and having lived just a field away from both for a nine-month spell during 2012/13, I can state here that neither have negatively impacted on my life. However, I realise I probably have a different perspective on this issue from someone in my native area who, for example, may have livestock to tend to.
On the basis of a lifelong affinity with dogs, I could be relied upon – in a non-veterinary sense – to identify stress in a labrador or a springer spaniel, yet I would never describe that level of knowledge as being expert-life.
What I know about dogs I learned from my late father, just as he in turn learned how to handle and train dogs from his late father. Neither ever received parchments which bestowed academic titles upon them, but they were two of the most capable and intelligent men I’ve ever known, their practical and intuitive knowledge a priceless currency, literally gleaned from the ground up.This learned heritage may mean nothing to a multi-national wind park developer or an An Bord Pleanála official but it matters a great deal to those of us who not only view the countryside as our home, but as an area we wish to safeguard and preserve.
For example, those who knew the physical lie of the land best between Fiddown and Carrick-on-Suir ought to have been listened to when it came to the original routing of the bypass over 20 years ago.
Had local knowledge been full tapped into, a flyover would have been built in a more appropriate location, the N24 as is would not ‘arch’ as it does towards Carrick, and lives would undoubtedly have been saved in the interim. As for wind energy, the latest local debate is raging along the West Waterford/East Cork border, where Innogy Renewables Ireland Ltd wish to develop a wind farm containing between 20 and 25 wind turbines. And this proposal led to 28 out of 29 Councillors attending the City & County Council’s (June) Plenary Meeting to support a motion tabled by Cllr James Tobin (FF) which opposes the development.
“We’re not objectors,” said Cllr Tobin. “We’re protectors of the people in my community and in all of Waterford because we as elected members, whether people agree or disagree with our policies or our parties, we still are elected to represent everybody, regardless of party and none, and that is what the eight (Dungarvan-Lismore Councillors) done (in jointly declaring their opposition) and for any company that would call the eight of us objectors, I wonder are they running scared?”
The sole contrary voting voice during the debate, Cllr Joe Conway (Ind) pointed out what appears to be an unavoidable reality, that: “Those who work to develop and promote wind energy as part of delivering an economical, environmentally friendly, low carbon future for Ireland are – whether we like it or not – part of that future.” He added: “Regarding the Waterford City and County Development Plan I would point out that any wind farm operator seeking to develop a site in the areas identified will be required to go through the normal planning procedures, including an environmental impact assessment, to deal with each and every issue.”
It’s difficult not to consider the Eirgrid ‘super- pylon’ proposal in the context of the West Waterford turbine debate and the learnings which prospective developers could ascertain from that heavily-reported upon episode.
The impression presented at both the company’s initial City Hall presentation and in subsequent communiqués was that the GridLink project was “essential to ensure that Ireland’s future energy needs are met. It will guarantee a secure, high-quality, energy supply for families, employers and communities across for decades to come.” But here we are in 2018 and the pylons GridLink envisaged running across the country have not been built, yet the lights haven’t gone out in houses, business and milking parlours all over the country.
On its website, Innogy describes itself as “one of the world’s leading developers, constructors and operators of offshore wind farms” and in March, the company posted details of its 600MW offshore Dublin Array project.
Innogy also “owns and operates, either on their own or together with partners, seven offshore wind farms in three different European countries”.
Would a ‘Waterford/Celtic Sea Array’ proposal by Innogy catalyse the same level of local opposition as their West Waterford plan has? I suspect not. And let’s face it, a country like ours, surrounded as it is by water, is hardly short of unreasonable and viable alternatives.