Binevenagh Wind Farm: The Story So Far

In 2010, the Northern Ireland Executive put forward a new strategy for a more eco-friendly Northern Ireland. As such, Renewable Energy International and Windy Fields Group developed a plan to erect 21 wind turbines at Binevenagh, County Londonderry, better known as Windy Hill.

Binevenagh is one of three locations in Northern Ireland that a wind farm is being developed on. These three sites are part of a larger nine that are under special protection as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is because Binevenagh is recognised as an area of natural beauty and a popular tourist destination that the plans have been met with significant backlash.

The backlash came as a result of concerns that a large wind farm would spoil the natural beauty of the area; lengthy construction time and turbines a third the height of the cliffs themselves would cause “catastrophic and irreversible damage”, per Binevenagh SOS. Opposition to the proposed wind farm came in the form of protestors, a Facebook page with almost 3,000 likes, a website (Binevenagh SOS), and public opposition from branches of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board and the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency.

For more information on the links mentioned, check out the Binevenagh SOS website and the Binevenagh Facebook page.

Binevenagh Mountain

Amid all of the opposition to the proposal, Windy Fields and political figures have emerged and made statements in an attempt to stop concerns, or at least highlight the benefits the wind farm would provide. Furthermore, as a means of alleviating concerns over the supposed destruction of the landscape, Windy Fields reduced the number of turbines from 21 to 16. Windy Fields CEO Jeff Potter said, “We have gone to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm, including the removal of five turbines and moving several others back from the escarpment.”

Windy Fields have argued that Northern Ireland absolutely needs to become a more eco-friendly country and the Binevenagh wind farm is the first step forward. Windy Hill, as it is known locally, is one of the windiest locations in all of Europe and, as such, is the perfect location for a wind farm. The benefits far outweigh the aesthetic drawbacks is the case put forward by Windy Fields and, with opposition having fallen to 10%, it seems like it is just a matter of time until the farm is erected, for better or worse.

 

The Positive

There are  a myriad of benefits to using wind farms as a source of renewable energy. From the low cost of production to the high output of power, wind farms are an increasingly viable option to the energy crisis facing the entire world. This is especially true considering just how windy the UK and Ireland is.

Windy Farms CEO Jeff Potter has shed some new light on the controversial Binevenagh Wind Farm project. The plans for a 21 turbine wind farm on the Northern coast have been in motion since 2010 but there still hasn’t been any ground broken. The plans have been reimagined and now there are only 16 turbines being erected but the backlash to the project has still not diminished. Potter talked about the project and explained where it’s at now.

“Yes, we are still moving along.” Said Potter. “The application has gone to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) on an article 33 non-determination appeal, as the DOE planners were unlikely to decide either way.  The PAC is now waiting on our last environmental submission which we hope to send off in early March.” Windy Farms have submitted the last environmental report and, assuming there are no major hiccups, should receive a definitive yes or no by April or May.

Windy Fields Plans
Windy Fields Plans

So it seems likely that the project will indeed be breaking ground sometime in 2015, but there remains a vocal community of protestors, which Jeff Potter maintains are a minority. “A recent poll conducted by DECC that was released on 3 Feb 2015 showed support for onshore wind farms up to 68% of the public and total opposition down to 10%.” The 10% of total opposition seems surprising given the amount of support the anti-wind-farm Facebook page has and the Binevenagh SOS website, however it is possible that, over the past few years, the story has not been as prominent in media and public awareness of the project has dropped. Regardless of the reasoning Potter said, “This is encouraging, as it is impossible to satisfy all the people all the time.” While Potter’s words may be true, the people who oppose the wind farm are not looking for a compromise. “There is a certain percentage of the 10% of opponents who will never be satisfied and refuse to respond to questions as to where the electricity is going to come from, or how climate change should be dealt with.”

When asked about the concerns that the wind farm would ruin the natural beauty of the landscape, Potter admitted that Windy Farms have done everything to keep it as inconspicuous as possible. “We have gone to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm, including the removal of five turbines and moving several others back from the escarpment.” And when asked if the reason for reducing the number of turbines from 21 to 16 was also aesthetic, Potter implied that it was.

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An Artist’s Rendering of The Plans

One of the major concerns of the project is ruining the natural beauty of the landscape, which could have a negative effect on tourism. Moreover Northern Ireland is seen as a budding film and television location and protestors argued that shows like Game of Thrones, which has provided a major economic boost for Northern Ireland, would be deterred from shooting here. Potter was asked about the concerns over tourism and the entertainment industry, he responded defiantly. “Most films determine their shooting destination on availability of skilled technicians and tax credits. So, these people see Northern Ireland as the New Hollywood?  On the effect of wind farms on tourism see: (1) a study commissioned by the Welsh government and published in April 2014 and (2) a study in 2011 commissioned by NITB.” Northern Ireland may not be the new Hollywood, as Potter put it, but the boost in tourism and global recognition brought forth by Game of Thrones is undeniable and deterring future projects would be a real disappointment.

Game of Thrones being filmed on the Binevenagh coast
Game of Thrones being filmed on the Binevenagh coast

Even the Northern Ireland Tourism Board has been drawn into the discussion over the aesthetic of the wind farm, per the Londonderry Sentinel (2014). “A development of this scale and in such close proximity to these features may have an impact on the ‘visitor experience’ in the area.” But when asked about the public opposition from official bodies, Potter had this to say. “The NITB did not put in an objection letter.  In fact, it would make more sense for them to support it in light of the tourism and educational centre that will be built alongside the wind farm, as well as recreational activities that it will promote: walking, jogging, cycling, etc.”

Considering the benefits of the wind farm that Potter mentioned, he was prompted for any other advantages the project could bring. Potter replied with a list:

  • Jobs – before, during and post construction in an area that is among the highest in unemployment in NI
  • Helping NI and the UK achieve binding Renewable Energy targets
  • Climate change mitigation (for those that care, as we do)
  • Community Fund of over £250,000 per annum being injected back into the local community with an emphasis on job creation and environmental projects
  • Landowner rents impacting the local economy indirectly
  • Significant Rates which will partially go to the local councils
  • The Tourism and Education Centre will provide facilities for tourists, schoolchildren/students and the local community through recreational activities
  • The peat restoration project will make the wind farm carbon positive
  • The habitat management plan will benefit flora and fauna

If all of Potter’s predicted advantages to the project come to fruition then it is hard to object the wind farm, even if it is unsightly. Potter addressed almost all of the concerns and backlash the project has faced thus far and retort for every one, some of which were more PR than others. The final question put forth to Potter was simple, what would he like to say to anyone who opposes the Binevenagh Wind Farm, in order to alleviate the concerns once and for all.

“I have had a number of discussions with opponents who came to our open days and almost all said that they have nothing against renewable energy or wind energy, but they just wanted it somewhere else.  But if coastal inhabitants in this area aren’t concerned about future (or even current!) effects of climate change, then you have to wonder what they are thinking! The project will provide much needed jobs, electricity and economic benefits, not to speak of helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. To argue that this is not enough to compensate for individual aesthetic issues is short-sighted.”

For more information and news, check out the official Windy Fields website.

 

The Not-So Positive

Gortmore-Viewing-Point-Manannan-MacLir

As mentioned on a few occasions, there has been considerable backlash to the proposed wind farm. From those who live on the coast, to Councillors and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Windy Fields has faced opposition from day one.

The opposition from locals in the County Antrim/County Londonderry area has been vocal in the form of protests, petitions, fund-raisers and social media.

These tweets are among a myriad of those opposing the wind farm. The Binevenagh SOS also has a twitter page that regularly tweets about petitions and makes sure anyone who opposes the project is encouraged to voice their opinion.

The primary concerns are about the lengthy construction time that would be necessary to build 16 turbines, the “ruined” aesthetic of the landscape once they’re erected, and the noise generated by them. Some people have voiced their concerns that the noise of the turbines would disrupt the peaceful nature of hearing the ocean. The following video shows the noise produced by a single turbine.

The Londonderry Sentinel said last year the Northern Ireland Tourist board is “the latest in a series of groups, individuals and businesses to oppose the planned wind farm in the heart of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Those opposed to the plans point to the negative impact on tourism of a ‘panoramic view of industrial size turbines’.” Ruth Morgan, Environmental Officer for NITB, was asked for any updates on the organisation’s feelings, to which she replied, “Tourism NI’s previous responses to this proposal – in which the tourism value of the area was highlighted – remains current.” Morgan’s comment is short but reinforces the original sentiments put forward by the NITB.

Mike Jones, Chairman of the Castlerock Community Association, was interviewed about the topic and had some choice words. “I think that this particular windfarm project is a complete ‘no-no’ in every way.” Said Jones. “The site chosen will destroy a very important landscape area which is a designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and has been since 2006. ”

When asked about his thoughts on the comments made by Jeff Potter, about Northern Ireland not being “the new Hollywood”, Jones replied with “We are not Bollywood yet but clearly we’re getting there”, along with this image:

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Jones continued by saying, “The film industry is, in fact, becoming more and more important as a source of income for NI in general and for this area, in particular. The number of visitors – from all over the World – taking the Game of Thrones Heritage Trail, for instance, which brings them to the Downhill and Castlerock areas, has shot up over the last two seasons.”

Jones was asked about the potential benefits on the wind farm, as put forth by Potter, to which he said “Windy Fields have been trying recently to woo the local people with the promise of all kinds of jam tomorrow. They are so ill-thought out and changing from day-to-day that the eminent mendacity of this deceitful campaign is truly pitiful.” Potter’s claims about a boost in employment were also mentioned to Jones. “Employment? It’s mostly eyewash. Some labourers may get short-term work but all the skilled construction workers will be drafted in on short-term contracts, probably recruited from the unemployed oil industry construction workers in Scotland, with most of their pay being sent back there.” Jones summed up his opinion on the economic boost and employment opportunities by saying, “No profit to NI economy there!”

“Windfarms have their place in areas where the landscape is less important and much less likely to be damaged permanently by such constructions.” Said Jones, when asked for any final comments. “Submerged turbines off the coast, powered by tidal power are now being shown to be much more efficient and effective than wind turbines. The term ‘eco-friendly’ to me implies that you don’t desecrate finest landscapes and pillage the environment in pursuit of some ill-judged conviction that plastering over the countryside everywhere with turbines will solve our on-going energy problems.”

For the full interview with Mike Jones, visit this link.

Not everyone is as outspoken as Mr. Jones but he does convey the thoughts, albeit more articulately, of many on the Binevenagh Facebook page. However Ruth Morgan of NITB stated that, in recent surveys, tourists have said any wind farm would not deter them from visiting the coast. “A 2011 study commissioned by Tourism NI from Mintel provides some initial insights and has found that 52% domestic visitors and 48% ROI visitors would be happy to visit an area with wind turbines.”

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Choosing A Side

It seems that the topic is still a divisive one. As stated previously by Jeff Potter and Ruth Morgan, the opposition to the wind farm has fallen dramatically and only represents a fraction of the community. However, as we’ve discovered through the opposing websites, organisations, and interview with Mike Jones, that small pocket of opposition is a very vocal one.

The Binevenagh Wind Farm is not a black and white issue with an outcome that is both efficient and moral. Windy Fields have argued the necessity for the farm and attempted to compromise by lowering the number of turbines. That being said, the tumultuous construction of the site and eternal eye-sore on the historic landscape is undeniable.

With both sides claiming advantages and disadvantages, as well as hitting out at the other, the waters become murkier. It’s difficult to figure out who to believe and which side should be taken.  A new eco-friendly initiative is great for the environment but is it worth ravaging the land you’re trying to save?  As Mike Jones said, there is more efficient ways of generating power in a green way, without having to ruin a historic landscape. Regardless of what happens, Binevenagh will always be a sight to behold.