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Opinion: For Whom The Turbines Toll

Posted August 3, 2012 by Conor Ross-Magahy in Ramp Specials

This is not a cry from a nationalist nor is it a decrying of capitalism. This is a piece that comes from a genuine concern for this little island we call home.

Element Power Ireland has signed a deal with the National Grid UK to supply 3,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020. The intent is to install 400 to 500 wind turbines across five midland counties within the Republic of Ireland, with the resulting energy travelling via two underwater cables to the UK. Element Power advise that this will produce up to 10,000 jobs for our economy and ensure landowners across the five counties of Westmeath, Meath, Kildare, Laois and Offaly rental agreements, paying them hard currency for the length of their leases.

This all sounds rosy in the garden, but wait. The majority of jobs created would be installation jobs which, by their very nature, are short-term. That is not exactly the long-term employment we want to ensure is available to our citizens, is it? It is more like stop-gap employment. What will happen to these 10,000 employees once they are no longer installing the turbines? Will they be surplus to requirements once the installation project reaches completion?

Will rent paid to large landowners really help our economy?

Element Power is an American company that has an Irish subsidiary which it set up in 2010. On Element Power’s website the local economic benefits mentioned include employees’ wages and rent to local landowners. The website currently advertises no positions anywhere in Europe. Without doubt, the main beneficiaries will be the large landowners. Given their position in society and the probability that they built up large debts during the boom, this rental cash flow could perhaps end up solely servicing their debts. A nice benefit for them, but not exactly a benefit for the country. These landowners may also have lost out during the boom in the rush towards urbanisation that effected commuter counties close to Dublin, something which could tee them up for saying yes to any proposition set out before them.

The counties selected are low-lying so, according to Element Power, the turbines won’t have a significant aesthetic impact on these areas. A noble sentiment, but given the counties’ geographic proximity to the East coast and the need to build an underwater cable, the economic factors behind choosing these specific counties should also be acknowledged.

Has Element Power opportunistically arrived on our shores while we are on our knees with economic woes? Have they taken that into account when shaping this deal, thinking our only choice is to give an accepting look over our shoulders and a preparatory wince at the expected?

Element Power is still to get the green light for the project. Seeking to circumnavigate the normal planning permission process, the company intends having their proposition included in the terms laid down by the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act of 2006, a streamlined consent procedure for certain types of major infrastructure decided upon by a specialised division within An Bord Pleanála. If it is decided that this project meets these terms, An Bord Pleanála then becomes the sole decision maker for the full process.

As ‘Ireland Inc’, we clearly have tremendous potential to become an exporter of wind-powered energy. Surely the most basic tenet of this should be securing our own power supply and then exporting the excess? Let us prioritise our needs by insisting that all wind farms set up here divert some of their produced power into our national grid. This will ensure we move on from our crippling overuse of fossil fuels, rather than just watch all our potential drain as we historically have with both our people and our talent.

This is our country. Should we not benefit from its potential?

Why not have more projects like SpiritofIreland, whereby through using our gifts and resources we reduce our dependence on imported fuels whilst establishing Ireland as an energy exporter, working towards achieving our own energy independence? Projects such as these are better for our children’s future and infinitely better than allowing private companies rent our land and export what they produce. This is our country and should we not, as a state, benefit from all the potential released from filling our land with giant windmills for the next century and beyond?

Element Power is an international company focused on making money for its investors. It doesn’t have any onus to think about Ireland’s long term future. It seeks only our prevailing winds and the UK’s available market. If these private companies can attract investors which, let’s face it, is where they intend on getting the start-up cash from, then why can’t we as a country also attract these same investors? Surely a government that backs an investment such as this is a safer bet than a company that appears mostly paper-based?

After all it is our land and it is our wind. Why should we not be the biggest beneficiary?

About the Author

Conor Ross-Magahy

  • Thepaintrflynn

    “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off
    the face of the earth.”

    • Cmagahy

      whenever i think of the word comment, I’m going to think the name PainterFlynn. It’s beyond doubt that you are cramped inside the box that is twitter. Im off to roar across the battlefield that’s due to be strewn with bloody fallen goliaths.

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