The head of one of the country’s biggest wind energy companies issued an apology last night for appearing to dismiss the concerns of people opposed to having turbines beside their homes in an appearance on RTÉ’s Prime Time.
Plans to build over 2,000 giant wind turbines across the midlands have prompted fierce protests amid fears that they could cause illness, noise and light pollution and reduce the value of homes.
Many people were infuriated by Mainstream Renewable Power boss Eddie O’Connor when he appeared to dismiss these concerns during a debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Monday night.
During the debate devoted to wind energy, Mr O’Connor appeared to laugh and smile at activists’ arguments. He also dismissed residents’ fears that the value of their homes would decrease, saying: ‘If you don’t believe you can sell your house, you probably can’t.’
He added: ‘Nobody is going to get sick from wind unless you tell them they are going to get sick.’
Mother-of-two Avril Twiss from Co. Laois, who was as in the studio audience, told the Irish Mail on Sunday she e was very upset after the programme.
She said: ‘It was very frustrating, he didn’t take us seriously.’
When fellow panellist Henry Fingleton from the ‘People over Wind’ campaign group compared the turbines to Liberty Hall and the Spire on top of each other, Mr O’Connor laughed.
But in a statement issued ssued last night, Mr O’Connor said he accepted he came across as dismissive of locals’ concerns.
He said: ‘I sincerely apoloologise to the people involved for appearing not to take their concerns seriously – it was genuinely not my intention.
‘I looked at the footage age afterwards and I fully accept how it could be perceived that way.’
Last night, Mrs Twiss responded: ‘I would not accept his apology as it doesn’t change anything.’
Mr Fingleton said that the apology was appreciated but wouldn’t change much.
‘Mr O’Connor’s appearance is not my concern nor is his perception of how people see him. His apology is welcome but it is not the big issue, the big issue is does wind energy work?’
In his apology, the Mainstream chief executive officer said he had ‘personally instigated’ a programme that will see the firm visit every residence within one kilometre of a proposed wind turbine.
‘This involved taking our people out of the office to drive around seven counties, knock on doors in rural areas to personally introduce ourselves to the residents, explain what we’re proposing and above all, to listen to their concerns,’ he said.
It also launched a consultation website – energybridge.ie – which provides information on the consultation process.
Following the RTÉ debate, Mr Fingleton had criticised support for wind farm companies from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte. He said: ‘We are calling for a proper analysis. It seems to be a classic case of big business being close to a government.’
In the case of Mr O’Connor’s company, the link is explicit. As previously revealed by this paper, Brendan Halligan, the Government-appointed chairman of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and also a former general secretary of the Labour Party, is a director of Mainstream Renewable Power. He has invested just over €500,000 in the firm.
One midlands resident, Jackie Carroll, in Stradbally, Co. Laois, had a 40m weather ‘anemometer’ to measure wind erected behind her house.
‘We were on holidays, we drove back up our lane and the thing was facing us. I started to cry, it was the realisation this was real,’ she said. ‘I saw nothing in the papers to tell us about it, or no leaflets.’
Horse trainer Tom Burns from Derrymore Farm in Co. Offaly said the noisy farms pose a threat to his business.
He called for the nationwide rollout of a Westmeath County Council initiative.
‘They have voted if a turbine is 185m high, it must be 1.85km from the nearest house. That is a start, a definite start,’ he said.
Marian Harkin, MEP, said earlier this month that the Irish Government needed to undertake a proper review of the State’s renewable energy programme.