WTAW campaigners say that turbines are effectively destroying Tyrone’s natural landscape while providing absolutely no benefit to those living in their shadow. They say hefty government subsidies are single handedly driving the wind industry and driving the county towards becoming Tyrone among the turbines rather than among the bushes.
Jeffrey Simpson is central to the campaign group hoping to blow the wind industry back out of Tyrone. He said their key goal was for an immediate suspension of windfarm applications until independent government studies into the effects on human health and the environment are carried out. And while he accepts there is a long way to go, Mr Simpson believes the tide of public opinion on wind energy is on the turn.
Mr Simpson said, “Where is the benefit to the local communities that have to suffer these things? And where is the evidence to say these are decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels and driving down our electricity bills?
“Our bills went up by 18 per-cent in July and are set to go up again in October. The reason for those increases is the fact that when the wind does not blow these turbines still have to turn or they will warp under their own weight. And to keep them turning they need to draw power from the national grid. What they draw isn’t metered but the cost is passed to us.
“The wind industry is dressing up their deception with so called community benefits and are telling our councils that wind energy is free and green. It is not free because our electric bills are still on the rise and it certainly is not green.”
Earlier this year former Environment Minister Alex Attwood described renewable energy sources like wind as “the single biggest economic opportunity for this island”. According to West Tyrone Against Windfarms though when dealing with turbine applications, the Planning Service is using guidelines drawn up in 1997 by the wind industry itself.
Every claim made by WTAW is dismissed by the wind industry who say they are contributing substantially to energy targets laid down by the Northern Ireland Assembly. They say their own studies clearly show that windfarms are not only clean and green but are benefiting rural communities as well as creating employment.
While the verbal sparring between both sides is certain to continue there is little doubt that, in West Tyrone at least, more and more people are getting involved in the wind debate.
WATW is now part of a wider body of lobby groups peppered right across Ireland and hell-bent on keeping the wind industry in check.
Owen McMullen of West Tyrone Against Windfarms explained, “We are creating awareness about windfarms and more people are now questioning them. The industry has never seen this level of opposition and we have already made our presence felt at Stormont. We have also challenged the wind industry to a public debate but they have said no on every occasion.
“What we are doing is not for ourselves, it is for everyone because the fact is that wind energy does not work. Everywhere the wind industry has been it has left a trail of destruction.
“There is not one shred of evidence to suggest there are any benefits and all they have given us are empty promises,” Mr McMullen said.
Campaigner Jim McLaughlin said the wind industry had “got into the heads of politicians” and convinced them that it would be a vital energy source in years to come.
“They have convinced our politicians that this is the way forward. But how many times have we seen politicians get things wrong? Well this is another wrong path they are being led down,” he said.
While WTAW has enjoyed some success in its crusade to halt the proliferation of turbines in Tyrone, they still face a very uphill task. The number of windfarm applications for West Tyrone continues to rise while the Planning Service is dealing with more single turbine forms than ever before.
Despite the statistics though, WTAW say they will continue to challenge wind energy chiefs at every juncture.
Geoffrey Simpson added, “What we want is a cessation of the applications that impinge directly on our group and that is our primary objective. The bigger battle extends to the impingement on society as a whole and in order to combat the propaganda of the wind industry, we need a process of education. That way people will be able to make their own informed decisions.”