Ireland's progression towards a sustainable energy future is significantly driven by wind energy, contributing more than 35% of its electricity in 20231, with a goal of 80% renewable electricity by 2030.

We must be mindful, however, that the extensive rollout of wind turbines across the country – a vital element of the government's energy policy – marks a considerable shift in energy infrastructure, impacting many communities in ways not previously seen.

This huge upscaling of wind turbines across the nation is no longer just a policy move; it is a transformative shift in our energy landscape, reminiscent of historical milestones such as Ardnacrusha and Moneypoint, but with a modern twist. These were iconic projects that powered Ireland's past, and today, we are writing an extension of this story – one that, if successful, may eventually touch every community in Ireland.

Nearly a century ago, Ardnacrusha represented a significant shift in Ireland's energy landscape. Consuming almost 20% of the state's budget2, it was a monumental engineering achievement, capable of powering the entire country at the time, and significantly contributing to Ireland's 20th century development.

Its impact on local communities was notable, yet limited due to its singular nature. Similarly, in the 1980s, Moneypoint's development, capable of producing 25% of Ireland’s electricity, aimed to reduce oil dependence3, marking another significant phase in the nation's energy history.

Commissioned in 1929, Ardnacrusha was a model for large scale electrification schemes worldwide. ESB Archives4.

Ireland's new challenge: A locally supported transition

The green transition is Ireland's new frontier. Unlike the monumental, yet isolated, projects of the past, today's energy demand means that no one renewable energy project can supply the required electricity.

This calls for a decentralised approach including diversifying with wind energy, both onshore and offshore. This shift brings engineering closer to communities, embedding, from the communities’ perspectives, relatively industrial projects into the fabric of daily life in a way Ireland has never seen before.

As turbines dot more and more of the landscape, we need to be considerate that communities may struggle to reconcile these projects with their local sustainable development.

Without a seat at the table, communities often feel that those pushing turbines are making decisions that belong to the host community – and that their timely and robust local input is missing or ignored. They deem this a lack of meaningful engagement, a lack that leads to distrust and resistance. Compounding this is the continued use by some developers of outdated design guidelines from 20065, which fail to reassure communities.

The community conundrum

As engineers and developers, given the urgency of the energy transition, we often feel the engagement undertaken today should be sufficient, and that going beyond the legal requirements would be fruitless and lead to a competitive disadvantage6. However, as the industry has seen over the past years, nearly two-thirds of projects are stopped by community opposition through one way or another7,8

Both communities and social science researchers feel the current engagement standards are simply a box-ticking exercise and that it is not designed to add value to the project, or incorporate community synergies into the design.

Taking learnings from the extractive industry, experts advocate for early, reliable, and continuous engagement, emphasising the need for trust-building and inclusive dialogue9. Community involvement in community-related decision-making is needed, and not just information sharing. To be effective, this should start at the project's inception, and be maintained as a flexible, evolving process throughout its development.

A house stands in the countryside near turbines that form the Seltannaveeny Wind Farm, operated by Energia Group, a unit of Viridian Group Ltd, near Arigna, Roscommon. Bloomberg10.

Shared goals, diverging paths

While industry and communities share climate and energy security goals, the path to achieving them is fraught with misunderstanding. Despite a large majority support for renewable energy11, initial enthusiasm wanes as projects materialise, with local support within a 5km radius plummeting12. This decline isn't just about aesthetics or noise; it's about a deeper need for meaningful involvement from the get-go. Simply labelling it as NIMBYism won’t make the deeper challenges affecting the energy transition go away.

Wind Energy Ireland, acknowledging the slowing of wind installations, advocates for planning reforms13. While this may rectify some of the problems, particularly opportunism14, it cannot be expected that these reforms will resolve the root causes of many legitimate legal, and otherwise, challenges; this within the context that Ireland is “already in the top five globally for both installed wind power capacity per capita and the contribution of wind energy to electricity demand"15.

Unravelling the resistance

Resistance to more wind projects often stems from deeper issues than just not wanting turbines in one's backyard. It is about heritage, community development, and a sense of belonging.

Current planning reforms scratch the surface, but we must dig deeper. Understanding and addressing community concerns early can prevent legal battles and foster cooperation.

Without innovative engagement strategies, we risk alienating the very communities we need to succeed in Ireland's energy transition. After all, it is not unreasonable to expect our design and engagement process to successfully address the issues host communities have, before wind farms get designed and submitted for planning. 

Looking forward: Mutual benefits and just transitions

Is there, hidden in all this, an industry paradigm shift that could help us all? More and more of us know that meaningful engagement is as crucial as financial and technical planning, in our attempts to reduce key risks to projects.

Rather than trying to be like Ardnacrusha or Moneypoint – isolated mega projects built away from communities – we have the opportunity to embrace our host communities’ development visions, and incorporate them into our projects. This isn't about compromise; it's about collaboration and value adding.

As we prepare to delve deeper into understanding community opposition and examining solutions in later articles, it is clear that bridging the gap between engineering expertise and community concerns and needs is key to unlocking Ireland's wind energy potential.

The future success of all this will not only be seen through the eyes of how many new turbines we get connected to the grid; an element of its success will include how we as developers and government authorities address the challenge of enabling a sustainable, inclusive Just Transition within the communities our designs and business models touch.

Commissioned in 1985, Moneypoint was built with 400Kv transmission lines to supply energy to the East Coast. ESB Archives16.

Author: John Aston is a Chartered Engineer with 15 years of international natural resource project developer experience followed by nearly 20 years addressing the challenge of earning more meaningful local support for such projects. With a focus on projects that have potential significant local impacts, he bridges technology, business, permitting, and community engagement through co-design. 








7) Power, B., Ryan, G., Eakins, J., O’Connor, E., Sirr, G., Le Maitre, J., 2023. Community Engagement in Wind Energy: Innovative approaches to achieving a social license to operate (CoWind) . Cork University Business School, University College Cork.

8) van Rensburg, T.M., Kelley, H., Jeserich, N., 2015. What influences the probability of wind farm planning approval: Evidence from Ireland. Ecological Economics 111, 12–22.

9) See “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement in the Extractive Sector” or “AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard



12) Koecklin, M.T. et al. (2021) ‘Public acceptance of renewable electricity generation and transmission network developments: Insights from Ireland’, Energy Policy, 151, p. 112185. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2021.112185. 



15) Climate Action Plan 2024, page 156.