The GE 1.5 megawatt wind turbine is not known for being discreet. It weighs 160 tons and has three blades that span 35 meters each and spin atop an 80 metre tower. The blades sweep a vertical airspace of just under an acre and at a cost in the region of €2,000,000 per turbine. The GE 1.5 is one of the most common wind turbines used in Ireland and each one can supply about 500 homes. With renewable energy at the forefront of the Government’s mind, there are plans in motion to expand the wind turbine network countrywide.
This expansion plan has not gone unnoticed by those in the horse racing world. Showing strength in unity, all four industry bodies; The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, the Irish Jockeys’ Association, the Irish Racehorse Trainers’ Association and the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners agreed on a joint submission which was delivered to the Department of the Environment. This paper included proposed revisions to the DoE Wind Energy Development Guidelines which planned to safeguard the future viability of the racing industry in Ireland.
Highlighting the well-touted fact that the racing industry employs upwards of 14,000 people and has a value of over €1 Billion to the Irish economy, the revision document stated that the revised Wind Energy Guidelines “should not facilitate insensitively sited wind turbines from impacting negatively on the safe operation of thoroughbred studs, stables and training yards and, as a result, threatening the viability of the thoroughbred industry in Ireland.” While at pains to stress that the ITBA, IJA, IRTA and AIRO are not opposed to Ireland’s commitments to meet its renewable energy generation goals, they are concerned that it poses a serious and tangible risk to thoroughbred horses.
This claim is backed up by a four year study conducted at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Lisbon’s Technical College. The study revealed that ever since wind turbines were installed beside the grazing paddocks of a Portuguese stud farm in 2008, 11 foals developed flexural deformities of the front limbs, after they were born. All but one of these foals were euthanized.
During the four year study, researchers carried out measurements of ground vibration at different distances from the wind turbines, with the same equipment that is used to detect seismic vibrations (e.g. earthquakes). The results of these measurements, showed ground vibration at different frequencies and these vibrations effect bone metabolism which in this case, have lead to developmental deformities in the foals.
David Redvers, a highly respected bloodstock agents whose clients include Sheikh Fahad al Thani’s Pearl Bloodstock and Qatar Racing has admitted that his clients are watching this matter closely; “we currently are sourcing potential farms on which to base our Irish operations. However, it is with regret that we read of the plans to allow the construction of large numbers of electro-turbines and pylons in the areas traditionally associated with quality Irish stud land. It is our considered opinion that developments of this kind are not conducive to the raising of top quality bloodstock in the areas in which they are built.”
Careful consideration therefore needs to be taken if wind turbines are to be placed near horses and training facilities and this consensus appears to be echoed across the industry. There is a lot at stake here. More perhaps than what is recognised.
The wind turbine project, which was valued at some €7 billion, appeared to have been given the green light last year when both the Irish and British Governments signed a memorandum of understanding. This would have seen 2,300 wind turbines being built across the midlands between now and 2020 to supply 5,000 megawatts (MW) of power exclusively to the British market. The vast majority of the planned 40 wind farms were to be erected on 20,000 hectares of cutaway bog where they would have reached heights of 185 metres.
But of course the midlands is home to the epicentre of the horse racing industry in Ireland. With dozens of stud farms, training yards and equine facilities dotted near to the proposed locations of wind turbines.
Minister Rabbitte now has questions to answer, none more so from Sinn Féin who have put forward the issue for Private Member’s Business this week. Also, a note from Davy Stockbrokers has suggested that the UK had changed their strategy on the Irish export scheme and were instead focussing on developing fracking, North Sea gas and nuclear energy to meet its energy needs.
Either way, there will be much delight from The Curragh to Navan and beyond.