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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 12:32 GMT
Tourism fears over wind farm plan
Wind turbine
Wind farms can be controversial
Plans for an offshore wind farm to generate electricity in Northern Ireland by 2005 have received a cool reception on the north coast.

The government has asked developers to submit tenders for a wind farm in the sea between the resort of Portstewart in County Londonderry and Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.

If the project goes ahead, one third of the output of Kilroot Power Station could be generated by 50 windmills in the Inishowen peninsula, each of them 180 feet tall.

However, the north coast is famous for its sea views and some residents feel "clean" energy would be generated to the detriment of tourism - one of the area's main incomes.

Dermot Gordon of Armstrong Gordon Estate Agents on Portstewart Promenade said people moved to the area because of its beauty.

Waves, BBC
Locals cite the beauty of the coastline

"Quite a high percentage of people who come to Portstewart want to enjoy the view," he said.

"They feel if they are coming to the north coast they want to see the sea and they would like to be able to be able to afford that view from their own homes.

"If the view is affected people are certainly not going to be very happy about it."

Don Wilmot who manages the Causeway Coast and Glens Regional Tourism Organisation said he would reserve judgement until he saw the plans.

But he said research had shown the outstanding natural beauty of the north coast was the prime reason for visitors.

"Any development, not just this proposal for a wind farm, which poses a threat on the environment would give us some concern," he said.

Mr Wilmot, whose organisation represents eight local councils, has viewed offshore wind farms near Copenhagn.

He said he had heard reports that tourism had dropped by 40% in an area of Denmark with a lot of windmill development.

"Tourism is a major earner for the (north coast) region and generates some 100m of revenue," he said.

"Anything that would impact on us would give us serious cause for concern."

Sir Reg Empey: Plans will be subject to environmental study
Sir Reg Empey: Plans will be subject to environmental study

The Inishowen peninsula has been chosen for its dependable wind speed and depth of water.

On Wednesday, Enterprise Minister Sir Reg Empey said a developer for the project would be sought by the end of April.

He said his department was "committed to exploring new ways of producing more of our electricity from renewable energy resources."

"This competition is a further step towards investigating the feasibility of harnessing a significant amount of energy from offshore wind power in Northern Ireland," he said.

Sir Reg acknowledged the site was close to "environmentally sensitive areas" adding that any proposals would be subject to a full environmental impact study.

'Disaster'

However, Barbara Dempsey who owns an electrical shop on the sea front in Portstewart, said most people were "adamant it would be a disaster" for the area.

"I, in line with a lot of local feeling, would be quite against something that would be detrimental to the view," she said.

"It may be ecologically sound, but certainly would do nothing for our tourist industry."

But, her husband, Jimmy, would appear to be one of the few local people backing the wind farm idea.

"I would prefer for Northern Ireland or Ireland to have its own source of renewable power," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Jeremy Mitchell
gauges the reaction along the north coast"
See also:

14 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
UK faces hard energy choice
14 Feb 02 | Scotland
Energy review to be published
11 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Ireland takes wind power plunge
12 Nov 01 | UK
Q&A: Wind and wave power
13 Dec 01 | Scotland
Giant wind farm for island
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