Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

How the wind of change blows through Ireland

I have four green fields. One of them's in turbines ... After many centuries of conflict and mistrust, who would have thought the day might come when the wind that shakes the barley in the Irish midlands could be lighting up the lives of householders in the English midlands?

But that could indeed become reality following the signing of an agreement committing Ireland and the UK to "partnership on energy issues".

What this could lead to would be the erection of some of the world's largest wind turbines in the aforementioned Irish midlands to supply heat and lighting to Blighty. According to Irish Energy minister Pat Rabbitte, Ireland produces more energy that it knows what to do with.

But England has a shortage of the renewable stuff and is keen on Irish wind energy since it is green in every sense and should work out relatively cheap. (The electricity produced would be transported via cable across the sea.)

There is talk of a UK energy bill saving of up to £7bn in the 15 years after the projected start of the scheme in 2017.

And the Irish economy, say experts, also stands to be boosted by the creation of an estimated 30,000 new jobs should the project go ahead.

So a win-wind situation?

Sadly unlike the turbines themselves, not everyone is a big fan.

Those who stand against the breeze argue that wind farms destroy the landscape. In this particular instance, "crazy" is the precise description being used.

Opponents are particularly alarmed at the logistics.

At around 600ft (180m) high, the turbines will be bigger than anything seen in the British Isles to date. They need to be exceptionally tall because the boggy midlands aren't, it transpires, terribly windy. (Big, heavy turbines, boggy land ... presumably the planners have considered the possibility of the things sinking?)

What is interesting in all this is that it's the green (as in environmental) argument that dominates here. Not the green one (as in nationalistic anti-Brit stuff of yesteryear.) The Republic has moved on. And the pragmatic forward-looking south these days sees sense in taking advantage of the neighbouring market.

Thus England's energy difficulty is Ireland's opportunity.

It's a reflection of a growing sense of partnership and co-operation between different parts of these islands and something of a reminder that whatever the debate about (and indeed outcome of) referenda on EU membership, Scottish independence or Irish unity we are primarily dependent, in this small part of the world, upon each other. All of us.

Getting along with the neighbours - in both the local and wider context - makes sense. The world is changing. Not just in terms of technology and how we create, deliver and use energy but in terms of the challenges we all face.

The cold blast of recession that has been buffeting our shores for several years now, shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.

But there's an undeniable new warmth in relationships between east and west within these islands. And we've reached the point where a traditional Irish air now looks set to become the wind beneath England's wings.

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