Wind farm fears 'needlessly stoked'
Fears over a mammoth wind farm export project across Midlands' counties have been needlessly stoked by poor communication by some developers, it has been claimed.
Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, warned about gross distortions and mischievous exaggerations over the controversial plan.
Two companies - Element Power and Mainstream - are seeking the green light to erect 1,150 giant turbines across Offaly, Laois, Kildare, Meath and Westmeath with the aim to export electricity to the UK.
The Greenwire and Energy Bridge projects are facing opposition from farmers and rural householders over the scale of the turbines, noise and proximity to homes.
Mr Rabbitte hit out over what he said was a lack of truth in the debate over the schemes.
"Some of these concerns have been needlessly stoked by unthinking communication by some developers. Citizens and community groups are entitled to have their concerns properly addressed," he said.
"It is undoubtedly the case that misinformation abounds. However, being dismissive of the questioners is not the way to deal with wrong information."
Mr Rabbitte dismissed claims that developers will not have to satisfy a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
"It is not true that the skies over the Midlands will be blighted by wind turbines," he said.
"It is not true that communities will be excluded from inputting into the process. It is not true that we will be giving away a valuable indigenous resource. It is not true that we will be exporting green energy at the expense of meeting our own mandatory domestic targets.
"It is not true that there are no jobs for local people in developing an export sector in green energy. Nor is it right to exaggerate the number of jobs that will be created although none of us can forecast precisely the exciting potential."
The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is reviewing existing wind energy planning guidelines including issues around noise, separation distance and shadow flicker from turbines.
Draft revised guidelines will be published this November and finalised guidelines should be in place in the first half of next year and applied to any export projects.
Mr Rabbitte attempted to dispel some of the arguments as he addressed the Irish Wind Energy Association conference in Galway.
He said a planning process will take place over the next 12 months for the Midlands schemes and An Bord Pleanala will be given new criteria on which to decide on the projects.
The department is also planning to host a special section on renewable exports on its website in coming weeks.