The recent ratification by Ireland of the UN’s Aarhus Convention still has a year’s probationary period before citizens can lodge complaints against our authorities. The NGO inspired Convention requires access to justice and information.
Ireland has, however, already found itself at the receiving end of a preliminary ruling that threatens the country’s vast subsidies for wind turbines against other forms of renewable energy, as well as EU funding for the new interconnector to the UK.
Circumventing the fact that at the time he lodged his complaint Ireland has not even signed the Convention, engineer Pat Swords focused his complaint on the EU itself’s failure to ensure that the member states followed the Convention. The EU had ratified the convention in 2006.
Swords’ complaint was deemed acceptable in 2010 and a preliminary ruling this year upheld his central tenet: that the ‘public authorities in Ireland and the Party concerned [the EU] failed to disseminate information concerning the Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff I programme (REFIT I) in Ireland – a programme supported by the Party concerned both by means of direct funding and by approving state aid – in a timely, accurate and sufficient manner.’
The ‘information’ includes the fact that no Strategic Environmental Assessment was done of the wind energy programme – a call that is being echoed by almost every community in Ireland adversely affected by wind developments. The National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) was not ‘subject to the necessary consultation and assessment’.
One recent submission to An Bord Planala opposing the Clare grant of permission for a further 48 turbine windfarm north of Doonbeg makes the point succinctly:
“All counties in Ireland have areas with sufficient wind speeds to make them economically viable – this is borne out by the presence of wind farms in these areas. It is evident that any national policy for Ireland which seeks to capture the country’s maximum capacity for wind energy can be achieved without impacting on areas with sensitive landscapes, ecology and hydrology.”
The lack of a national Strategic Environmental Assessment has led to a wild west mentality with developer’s land grabs for mountains in remote areas where opposition will be scattered. Generous 20 year contracts offered by the companies to hard pressed landowners are subsidised by the taxpayer. Meanwhile, the aerobiotic digester programme remains underfunded.
These digesters would take up the slurry now contaminating beaches and drinking water supplies and use them to produce fuel. An EU funded LIFE project at Silver Hill Foods in County Monaghan now takes the slurry of 3,000,000 ducks – 70,000 tons – and converts it to dry pellet fertiliser, capturing the methane to run the unit.
Sword’s, whose lengthy internet publications indicate that his opposition to wind farms is just the tip of his conviction that mitigation against climate change is not economically viable, has now met unlikely allies in Geneva.
The Scotish Avich & Kilchrenan Community Council has recently has its complaint accepted by the Compliance Committee. This too strikes at what it calls ‘the flawed consultation process at the heart of the Government’s renewables programme’
They allege, as did Swords, that they have been denied ‘the opportunity to participate in decision-making when all options are open and effective public participation can take place, rather than after programmes and targets are presented in a final form to the public.’
Under the Convention, Governments must make available the scientific justifications for programmes which are said to affect the environment in which we all live.
Not only did the UK and Scottish Governments not do so, the community Council alleges that ‘the justification for the programme, namely the emissions savings attributed to wind energy, are false in that both the EU and the UK have systematically made claims which are neither transparent nor valid. The consequence has been that planning approvals and consents under the Electricity Act have been fatally undermined, since they have proceeded on an entirely false prospectus supporting wind farm development across the UK and the European Union.’
Continuing, they allege that ‘now that developers have exclusive investigative rights of search for the entire FCS [Forestry Commission of Scotland] estates, it has exposed the actual level of developer and FCS intentions under their new policy for hosting renewable energy projects.’
‘We have a public authority’, they conclude, ‘with vast tracts of land held in National trust, engaged in multiple developments of a commercial nature in the field of energy, all of which as individual projects fall under Annex II of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, for which this same public authority is the competent authority for purpose of development consent.’