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We could be the Saudi Arabia of wind

Outdoor Living

WILD ATLANTIC WINDIreland’s abundant wind-energy resource – the largest in Europe – is essential to its future.

Nature and rewilding

Pat Fahy

Last December, I participated in an online lobby for faster and fairer climate action by engaging with local TDs via Zoom, with participants asking that the Government close loopholes in the 2020 Climate Action Bill to ensure Ireland delivers on its climate targets.
Later, at one of the breakout meetings, the subject of wind turbines was brought up in a negative sense. A contention that they only have a lifetime of four or five years was ably answered by Caroline Goucher of Mayo County Council, who said that their usual lifespan is 20 to 25 years.
It made me wonder about all the grievances with wind farms and how much of a problem these energy sources really are? The following are some of the usual issues I’ve encountered in media or conversation, along with some myth-busting answers.
Theory: It takes more energy and its creates more CO2 to make a wind turbine than they will ever return in their lifetime. Answer: These are recouped and displaced after six months of operation.
Theory: Bog bursts (landslides) release more CO2 than a wind farm will ever displace in fossil fuels in its lifetime. Answer: A landslide occurred at Derrybrien Windfarm, Co Galway, in 2003. If all carbon in that landslide was released, it would be recouped in just seven to 15 months of production from the wind farm in avoided carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. A proper study of the hydrology of the site hadn’t been undertaken.
Theory: Nuclear power would be a much better idea than all these wind farms. Answer: Ireland’s population is too small for this option, the electricity produced is far more expensive than renewable energy, and nuclear power plants are too slow to build.
Theory: Wind turbine blades kill a lot of birds, so they should be banned. Answer: Whilst this is one of the most troubling aspects of wind farms for me, it has always been pointed out that there is no greater threat to biodiversity than climate change. Further to that, a promising new project in Norway may have vastly improved this problem by painting one of the blades black, aiding the birds vision. They have seen a 72 percent reduction in bird deaths.
Eagles and other soaring birds of prey are particularly vulnerable to wind farms and they benefit most from making the blades more visible.
So, given all of the above, I am happy to report that our abundant wind-energy resource – the largest in Europe – is essential to our future, no matter which way we look at it. In some ways we are to wind what Saudi Arabia is to oil, and now we need to capture that energy.
I’m not proposing that we put a wind turbine on every hilltop, as much as I like their industry, turning fresh Atlantic air into clean energy. It’s true there is still scope for more onshore wind farms, but there is tremendous potential for offshore wind energy – and this is where the greatest growth will be.
Developers have learned that they can plant larger and more numerous turbines far out at sea, barely visible from the coast, to capture breezes that are stronger and more reliable. Projects are well into development on the Irish and Celtic Seas, allowing the east coast to meet our climate targets. A more long-term plan on the west coast using floating-platform technology will see Ireland become a net exporter of energy to create revenue and employment to local economies.
Offshore wind here means investment here, and jobs near their locality onshore. Renewables are a pretty good solution for many things. Not just for reducing the amount of carbon we use but also for ensuring we have security of energy supply. It all makes perfect sense, but there’s bound to be niggles along the way.
The potential for this country is there. We can go 42 percent renewable energy with little change to our electricity grid, according to one study, if we use 5.4 percent biomass as a baseline, and I believe this will happen. Much better to be the Saudi Arabia of wind energy than to send our money and job creation to some other country.
The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. Our world moved on, and we moved with it. Surely we must embrace the change when all the reasons are put in context. Only then will reason prevail.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.