Laois County Council looks set to be bypassed by companies that want to build wind turbines but the council stand s to benefit substantially if turbines get the goahead.
Up to 450 wind turbines could be towering 185 metres tall across Laois within five years. They will be built by different companies to supply electricity direct to the UK in a trade agreement made between both governments last December. 2,300 turbines are planned between Laois, Offaly, Kildare, Meath and Westmeath, with a lifespan of 25 years.
Farmers are accepting €3,000 to sign option deals even if their land is outside areas designated by Laois County Council as suitable for windfarms. If that land is later chosen, they will get an annual income of about €25,000 per turbine, index linked.
The county council are also set for a windfall of millions of euros in commercial rates every year.
The project is backed by the government, the IDA, the IFA and the Construction Industry Federation, who have called it “a life saving opportunity”.
Coillte, the national forestry company, which controls 7 per cent of Ireland’s land, signed a deal for up to twenty sites across the five counties last December.
One of the major players is Element Power, who say their 750 turbines will bring 10,000 construction jobs, and 3,000 long term jobs.
“These are real jobs, in areas like operational maintenance and administration. They will be sited where the skills are, but the opportunity is there. A huge cable network will be put underground and that will create maintenance jobs. There is also potential for long term business, perhaps in making turbine components,” says Kevin O’Donovan, Chief Development Officer.
Agreements are signed for more than half the land needed he says, adding that they have in the past given compensation for fenceline neighbours.
“In Laois there are clear no-go areas, such as the Slieve Bloom mountains, we are focusing on areas open to consideration, There would be one or two areas outside that such as Vicarstown, where there was strong interest from a group of landowners,” said Mr O’Donovan.
He said the council’s rate income could rise by 50 percent on the back of turbines. Between €10-€15 milllion could be earned annuall.
From summer to the end of 2013, they will hold public consultations, after which they will likely make their submissions direct to An Bord Pleanala, as if the number of turbines exceeds 25, it is classed as strategic infrastructure.
He dismissed claims that the UK is turning to Ireland because they were prevented from building more turbines in Britain.
“1,700 megawatts of wind turbines got planning in the UK last year, they just can’t develop them quickly enough to comply with having 30 per cent of their electricity from renewable energy,” he said.
Mr O’Donovan says they will comply fully with regulations and guidelines, and have been meeting with local authorities for two years.
“There are not going to be wall-to-wall turbines, By the time the planning applications go in, people will have all the information they will need. People have to have faith in the planning system, they will have every right to make comments,” he said.