Last week I heard that the Irish Wind Farmers Association – IWFA were hosting their annual workshop in Portlaoise so I asked if LEAF – Laois Environmental Action Forum, being the completely voluntary environmental forum in the host county, could have a couple of complimentary tickets so that some members may attend. It is always good to see these discussions and workshops from a community, unbiased point of view. I was very impressed that they reverted with two tickets that day and many thanks to the IWFA for having us.
The agenda for the day was as follows:
Enercon Sponsored Irish Wind Farmers Association Annual Workshop 2014
29th May 2014 Workshop- Heritage Hotel Portlaoise
“Gate 3 Project Delivery”
Session 1: Financing Gate 3
Chaired by James Carville, Chairman of IWFA
10.00 – 10.10: Conference Open – Dr. Brian Motherway – CEO SEAI.
10.10 – 10.30: PPA Supplying Local Wind Energy to Large Energy Users.
Ross McConnell – VAYU
10.30-10.50: Road Map to Financial Close
Luis P Duran– AIB Bank
10.50–11.00: Q + A
11.00-11.30: Coffee & Networking in Exhibitors Area.
Session 2: New Single European Market Update: Next Steps
Chair: Tommy Cooke – Vice Chairman of IWFA
11.30-11.50: IWFA I-SEM consultation Update
Grattan Healy – IERNE Consulting
11.50 -12.10: Gate 3 Grid Compliance
Rory Mullan – Mullen Grid Solutions
12.10–12.30: Q + A
12.30 – 2.00 Lunch Followed by Networking in Exhibitor Space
Session 3: Planning & Gate 3 Grid Delivery
Chair – John Byrne – Director KBM Wind Farm Ltd
2.00 – 2.30: Pre and Post Planning Compliance Issues –
Alice Whitaker of Philip Lee Solicitors
2.30 – 3.00 Challenges of Grid Delivery for Distribution Projects
Brian Nunan of ESB Networks
3.00 – 3.30: Grid 3 Challenges and Timeframe of Project Delivery
Peter Kavanagh – Highfield Energy
Cost €100 for Current 2014 Members & €150 Non Members
Exhibitor Stand – € 500 includes 2 person access to Workshop.
So to the opening address of the workshop. It began with the affirmation that 120 wind farms WILL be coming on stream within 2 and a half years, in Ireland. Given such a short time the audience was advised that they need to move fast. They need to talk to their legal teams, their consultants, their banks, the ESB. Absolutely NO mention of their neighbours or the communities they plan on developing next to!
Next Brian Motherway went on to admit that wind is controversial however he welcomes the debate. Societal engagement is inevitable. We need the wind debate. He stated that we need to have the discussion. People are entitled to express their concerns to which he sneered at the possibility that venereal disease and livestock infertility may actually be viable issues.
I see no debate. I see no discussion. I see media ping pong. I see articles and hear interviews either emphasising the benefits of wind energy while belittling the concerns or negatives of the industry. Or there may be someone dismissing wind as an ineffective energy solution in terms of performance, carbon savings and cost. Very often these interactions go over the head of the listener or reader. Much like a climate change debate – the facts are in peer reviewed research. Where does the consensus lie? Consensus on all of the areas expressed – be that cost benefit analysis, carbon savings or affect on livestock.
My questions to Brian Motherway are:
- Where is the discussion?
- When is the debate?
- Will you fund it?
- What if turbines do have an impact on livestock fertility?
Welcoming this debate is all well and good but where is it and who will host it? Who will pay for a venue to bring all sides to the table? I have been to about 4 energy events this year which is only a fraction of what was held. They must cost thousands! Usually I am the only one not on the “regulars” list and have been lucky to get in on a second hand ticket. There is no way that I could afford to attend them so how do any of these developers actually expect a debate to happen? Where will they discuss developments with the communities? When? They have the luxury of discussing business, affirming each others thoughts and massaging each others egos over lunch in some top class conference centre far removed from reality and the communities they plan on developing.
Apparently wind is our greatest resource and we should be exploiting it to receive the benefits? Who should be exploiting it? Who benefits? This is a common resource but the benefits are for the few.
I learned that Irelands electricity is the fourth expensive in Europe however Eirgrid is making a profit on net imported electricity. Does that mean that Eirgrid are inflating the price of electricity in Ireland?
I had to leave at lunch and wouldn’t dare interpret somebody else’s interpretations of the afternoon session. Suffice to say there are a lot of obstacles for any farmer thinking of converting to wind. However there was also a lot of advice on how to bypass some of them and who to lobby to ensure stronger checks are not put in place. While one part of me feels a little sorry for the wind farmers another part of me feels sick of the blatant disregard for communities and our environment.
Yet another energy conference, financiers, solicitors, wind developers and potential developers networking with like minded people while I sip another tea and wonder “do they even have a clue how detached from reality they are?” More lip service to community engagement. More condescending eye rolling.
Public participation does not happen in the media or talking about it from the podium of a developers conference. There is no debate, there never has been. The time for media ping pong is over – let’s start the all inclusive conversation about how to build an energy system from the bottom up. Let the communities lead the vision and then we can talk about development, finances and legalities.
I challenge developers to come out of your comfort zone and include communities. Your plans will never be really challenged by like minded people. It’s better to challenge it now than on site.
Theresa O’Donohoe June 2014
This blog generated some interesting conversation on facebook with lots of links to useful information on wind energy: