Windfarms could be a real coup for Midlands but public will want reassurance

Although there are few growth areas in the economy, it is becoming increasingly clear that windfarms are a particular hotspot at present. Westmeath and Offaly are virgin territory for windfarms, with no commercial wind turbines in operation in either county at present. However, that is set to change rapidly in the coming years with a growing array of wind energy players lining up to take advantage of much of the open countryside of the midlands. Mainstream Renewable Properties has already publicised its ambitious plans for up to 400 turbines and a 1,500MW wind energy development in the midland region. Another player Element Power is competing for landowners in similar regions, with its plans for a 'Greenwire' project for five midland counties. It intends to produce almost twice the level of energy that is currently generated throughout the entire country by wind turbines. All the windfarms across Ireland between them produce around 1,700MW; the Greenwire project is aiming at a level of 3,000MW. And now Bord Na Mona has turned the sod on its first windfarm venture in the midlands, at Mountlucas north of Daingean in Offaly, which will see the construction of 28 turbines. Significantly, the company also indicated that it is the first phase of what it is describing as a green energy hub in the midlands. West of the Shannon, Galetech is working on two major developments, part of what it calls the Seven Hills Wind Farm. Two phases of the project are currently at various stages of the planning process spanning parts of Dysart, Brideswell and Taughmaconnell, with 33 turbines planned in total. Many of these projects are designed to export power to Britain which is struggling to meet its own renewable energy targets. In contrast, in Ireland, there is likely to be an oversupply of potential renewable energy. Although green energy is clearly the future, there needs to be certainty that what is currently a growth market, akin to the property boom of the early noughties, does not lead to ghost windfarms in the future. Such major capital projects are extremely welcome at any time, but particularly in the recessionary climate of today, and it would be a real coup for the midlands to be at the vanguard of the next growth industry in these islands. However, the people of the midlands also need to be reassured that the current race to produce wind energy in the region is measured, justified and economically sustainable. We do not want the scars of another boom industry whose bubble burst left on the landscape of the region. On the other hand, farmers, construction workers and the wider public would also be buoyed by the direct and indirect benefits accruing if the plans for the midlands come to fruition.