Sustainable Peatland Wind Energy Transition

Wind Power
Copyright the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

The share of electricity generated from wind in Ireland is now the 2nd highest in Europe, and the highest for onshore wind. However, there is also a need to increase this share further in the coming years if both sustainable forms of electricity generation and EU targets with respect to renewable energies are to be achieved.

In this context, the location of wind farms is one of the primary issues which faces the wind energy sector over the coming decades, particularly with respect to the visual impact that they have on the surrounding landscape. Local communities are often concerned that wind farms will damage the landscape, reducing uninterrupted views and potentially damaging tourism to the area as a result.

Given that no further exploitation of peatlands for fuel production will happen in the coming decades in Ireland they offer a potential solution to generate other forms of power, including wind energy. Specifically, Bord na Móna, the commercial semi-state company, responsible for the mechanised harvesting of peat in Ireland has stated that it will not open any new bogs and is to cease its peat-extraction activities from existing bogs by 2030. To facilitate this transition, Bord na Móna is increasingly investing in other renewable energies such as wind energy. 

In this context, plans are now at an advanced stage for the conversion of peatlands to generate wind energy across the Midlands region. For example, at ESB’s Bellacorick Power Station and Bord na Móna’s peat production lands, a wind farm is being developed which will have the capacity to power up to 100,000 households once completed. Whilst this is expected to provide significant renewable forms of electricity once completed, research suggests that the long-term environmental benefits of the conversion of peatlands to wind generation can be negligible. This is particularly the case given that peatlands store vast quantities of CO2, which if released during the construction phase of such projects can offset potential gains of the renewable energy itself (Smith et al., 2014). This is in addition to potential adverse effects on water and overall environmental quality due to soil disturbance (Heal et al., 2020). It is therefore important that consideration is given to the entire ecosystem and to all knock-on environmental impacts when such projects are being designed and delivered to ensure that they provide an overall net environmental benefit.

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