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By Michael O’Farrell
THE chairman of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has been accused of a conflict of interest because of his involvement in an energy company that stands to make millions from massive new wind farms planned for the midlands. Brendan Halligan, the former general secretary of the Labour Party and a lobbyist, has been at the helm of the SEAI since he was appointed by the previous government in October 2007, and reappointed by Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte last summer. As chairman, he plays a pivotal role in shaping Government policy and incentivising renewable energy, and is privy to sensitive information flowing between the SEAI and Government. Yet five months after his appointment to head up the SEAI in Octoer 2007 Mr Halligan was appointed as a director of Mainstream Renewable Energy Ltd, a wind energy company founded by his friend and business associate Eddie O’Connor – a position he still holds while simultaneously acting as chairman of SEAI. He then invested just over €500,000 in buying shares in the company in August 2008. Leading academics say the dual role amounts to a clear conflict of interest. Until early 2011, Mainstream’s focus was largely abroad but in the summer of that year, the company announced its intention to invest €1.5bn in Irish wind farms. Former ESRI energy economist and Sussex University economics professor Richard Tol said: ‘It’s obvious that he has a personal interest in pushing wind rather than any other renewable.’ Given the dominance of wind over other forms of renewables in Ireland, he said it would be next to impossible for Mr Halligan to rec-
AS BOTH a former Labour TD and a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, Brendan Halligan, pictured, is well acquainted with Leinster House. But his newer role as a director of Mainstream Energy has also seen him visit the Energy Minister’s office. There have been numerous contacts between Mainstream executives, officials from the Department’s renewable energy section and Mr Rabbitte since the company announced its intention to invest in Ireland in July 2011 – including at least one meeting with Mr Halligan present and possibly as many as four. The contacts are detailed in internal Departmental correspondence and documents, obtained under the EU’s Access to Information on the Environment rules. Included are two Mainstream briefing memos for Mr Rabbitte’s attention. One memo, a 40-page document, is undated and almost entirely redacted by officials. The other is dated September 27, 2011. However, correspondence between the minister’s diary secretary and officials from the Department’s renewable energy section reveals that unnamed Mainstream executives did meet directly with Mr Rabbitte on November 14, 2011. A one-page brief, prepared for the minister by his officials for this meeting, informed Mr Rabbitte that the SEAI chairman Brendan Halligan was also on the board of Mainstream. A subsequent meeting with Mr Rabbitte then took place in March 2012, and this time the documents confirm that Mr Halligan was present in his capacity as a Mainstream director. Then on July 17, 2012 Mainstream chief executive Eddie O’Connor asked for another meeting to discuss an impending memorandum of understanding about the export of green energy to Britain to be negotiated and signed by the Irish and UK governments. ONE couple all too familiar with the problems caused by wind turbines are Philip and Catherine Hickey who live less than 400 metres from one. The Wexford couple said their quality of life has been severely affected, with headaches and lack of sleep a constant factor. Since February 2011, six wind turbines have been operational around their home, with four visible from their bungalow in Ballylusk. Mr Hickey told the Irish Mail on Sunday: ‘The visual aspect of our home has been destroyed. We have four that we can see, we are watching them every day from our windows. When we are sit at our kitchen table, we can see them spinning the whole time. When you’re out in the garden, the noise is just incredible, you can’t relax in your own home, inside or outside. ‘We’re in a very quiet area, the hum of the blades and the turbine gear mechanism will pierce any double glazing or insulation that you have. It’ll
The Irish Mail on Sunday APRIL 14 • 2013
Minister Rabbitte ‘acting like it is a done deal’
use himself from board meetings relating to wind. ‘I would say that legally there is nothing wrong here but it’s clear there is an insider who knows a lot and who could personally profit from the whole thing,’ the professor added. The company has now signed up hundreds of farmers as part of a controversial plan to export energy to Britain from swathes of new wind turbines to be installed across the Irish Midlands and has been busy lobbying Mr Rabbitte, who is also Mr Halligan’s former colleague. The minister’s role in the debate has already been a source of controversy. As the extraordinary scale of proposed wind farms has emerged in recent weeks, with proposals for 2,300 turbines across the Midlands, it has been claimed the minister is acting like it is a ‘done deal’. Mainstream is one of two companies, along with Element Power with plans for windfarms in the area. A report on RTÉ’s Six One news last month, in which an elderly couple were seen in tears explaining how their retirement dream had been destroyed by a turbine 700m from their home was immediately followed by a clip of Mr Rabbitte bluntly rejecting any complaints about the Government’s wind policy, saying it was about ‘creating wealth’. ‘This is about jobs, this is about creating wealth for Ireland and for the Midlands,’ he said. ‘Why is the emphasis on the protest? Why is the emphasis not on the fact that we are creating new jobs in a new industry in a sector that is renewable, in a sector that reduces the cost of energy to Ireland?’ The Government says the project will create between 3,000 and 6,000
How energy quango ‘Our quality of life has gone. boss lobbied Rabbitte We can’t sleep for the noise’
VIEW: Catherine Hickey lives in the shadow of the giant turbines
penetrate doors, walls. It just gets under you. Particularly at night, you can hear it in your sleeping quarters. I’m a light sleeper and once the noise gets in your head, that’s your night’s sleep gone.’ In addition to the noise, the couple have to contend with the constant flickering which is caused by the turbine’s blades passing in front of the sun. ‘The first year, it was uncontrolled, so as soon as the sunlight hit, it would go right through one end of the house to another. It’s like having strobe lighting in your house, it’s actually physically sickening,’ said Mr Hickey. or other entity last year. He remains a director. Mainstream also failed to respond to this week to questions about conflicts of interest and whether or not Mr Haligan had now disposed of the shares. The MoS also asked the SEAI a set of 15 questions related to the possibility of a conflict of interest between Mr Halligan’s role as chairman and his business interests with Mainstream. The questions asked whether Mr Halligan’s commercial inter-
jobs in construction, represent a €1bn investment and generate €900m in rates alone for local authorities over its lifetime. The minister’s recent signing of a memorandum of understanding with the British government to supply renewable energy in January – which we reveal was the specific issue that Mr Halligan and Mainstream lobbied him about – has since come under fire. Andrew Duncan of the Lakeland wind farms information group said the Government was behaving as if
the decision to locate so many wind turbines in five counties was a ‘done deal. We are the pawns in a very large game’. Yvonne Cronin, spokeswoman for another group, Crewe, a coalition of community groups against wind turbines too close to people’s homes, said it was ‘crazy’ for the Government to be promoting wind energy in the absence of clear national guidelines. The existing guidelines, dating from 2006, she said, ‘do not take into account the tripling in size of wind
turbines’ to a height of 180m or more, yet most counties merely sought a minimum distance between a turbine and a family home of only 500m. Company records confirm that Mr Halligan retained his valuable Mainstream shareholding in his own name until some time last year, when a €60m fundraising deal saw a huge volume of shares being transferred and moved. He no longer appears on the share register but he declined to answer questions about whether he had transferred his shares to a nominee
APRIL 14 • 2013 The Irish Mail on Sunday
The State’s chief green energy adviser is a former Labour party bigwig who bought shares in a company that stands to make millions from wind energy. He’s being accused of a conf lict of interest
Only in Ireland do they get to hang on in there...
AUSTRALIA GOVERNMENT CHIEF SCIENTIST
The appointment In 1999 Dr Robin Batterham was appointed as the Australian government’s Chief Scientist. The conflict He was also managing director of Research and Technological Development for private mining giant Rio Tinto. Renewable energy supporters claimed that Batterham’s employment by a mining company made his advice to the prime minister questionable, although Batterham insisted he acted impartially. The outcome In 2004 the majority of the members of the Australian Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee found that the ‘potential and apparent conflicts of interest which arise from Dr Batterham’s dual part-time roles are as damaging to the Office of the Chief Scientist as any real conflict of interest’. He resigned.
THE FUTURE: Image created by protestors of how Mullingar may look with proposed wind turbines
NEW ZEALAND ENVIRONMENTAL RISK MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY
The appointment In 2004 the New Zealand government appointed Dr Kieran Elborough as chairman of its Environmental Risk Management Authority. The conflict He was also a director of the Biopolymer Network, a jointventure company pursuing commercialisation of genetic engineering in agriculture. The outcome In 2010 amid concern about perceived conflicts of interest, Dr Elborough resigned.
A lucrative deal for Ireland – and farmers
Element Power (184m)
Why are two of the world’s largest wind farm companies targeting the Irish midlands to send green energy to the UK? The UK has committed to generating 15% of its energy resources from renewable energy sources by 2020. But because of heated rural opposition to wind turbines and concerns about health implications the UK energy minister, John Hayes, announced a moratorium on wind farm construction last October. In January, Ireland agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK to export green power there. Why is the Midlands region suited to wind energy as opposed to coastal locations? The constant, medium to low wind speeds in the Midlands are preferable to strong, gusty sites and are perfectly suited to the nextgeneration turbine technology, which involves much higher and larger turbines than have ever been seen in Ireland. It’s also considerably cheaper to build, maintain and service land-based installations. So what’s in store for the Midlands? Both Element Power and Mainstream Renewable Power have announced plans to build thousands of wind turbines across counties such as Laois, Offaly, Kildare, Westmeath, Tipperary and Kilkenny. How many turbines will there be? Mainstream has already signed up hundreds of farmers to site an initial 400 turbines on their land and is competing with Element, which is preparing to build a separate initial batch of 700 turbines. Eventually Mainstream plans to build 1,700 turbines across the Midlands, making a total of 2,400 turbines. How big will these turbines be? The turbines will stand at between 160m (Mainstream) and 180m (Element) tall including the 60m blade height. The tallest turbines will stand a full 60m higher than Dublin’s spire. There will be an estimated
ests had been fully declared to the SEAI and, if so, how the authority had ensured that a conflict of interest was avoided. The SEAI issued a one-line response and refused to elaborate when pressed further. ‘The SEAI takes its responsibility for the governance of the authority very seriously and acts in accordance with prevailing best practice in the governance of state bodies,’ a spokesman said. That best practice, though, seems at odds with many other jurisdictions where resignations from government
HOW THE WINDMILLS COULD TOWER OVER MULLINGAR
Dublin’s Spire (121m) Mainstream (160m) Mullingar Cathedral (55m)
ITALY EUROPEAN FOOD SAFETY AUTHORITY
The appointment In 2006 Diána Bánáti was appointed chairman of the management board of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The conflict She failed to declare that she was also a member of the Board of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a non-governmental organisation that is funded by food companies and seeks to coordinate and fund research and risk assessment. The outcome In 2010, following public concern about conflicts of interest, she resigned from the ILSI in order to keep her EFSA job. Then in 2012 she left the EFSA to return to the ILSI.
55M 20M 8M
10 to 20 turbines on each site often in a long line through land owned by several farmers. How much do farmers get? Last year both companies brokered deals with the IFA which secures sums of up to €24,000 per year per turbine for farmers. Many farmers stand to earn over €60,000 annually. Already hundreds have signed up for an initial €1,000 annual payment until the turbines are built.
What about other residents and locals? Although both companies have been secretly recruiting hundreds of farmers since last year, there has been no consultation with other rural residents who will have to live near the wind farms. In many cases residents have no idea that there is a proposal to locate wind turbines close to them. A public consultation campaign involving information days for residents is planned this summer.
decisions are made fairly and effectively. ’ Sinn Féin energy spokesman Michael Colreavy said he would raise the matter in the Dáil next week. ‘There has to be a potential conflict of interest here. That’s very, very clear.’ The MoS first emailed questions to Mr Halligan more than two weeks ago but he declined to answer. ‘If I give you a response, I give you a response. If not, I won’t,’ he told our reporter before hanging up. email@example.com
SPAIN EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE
The appointment In 2010 Josep Borrell, a former president of the European Parliament and an ex-minister in Spanish socialist governments, was appointed as president of Spain’s European University Institute. The conflict He was also a Board member of Spanish sustainable-energy company Abengoa. The outcome In the face of allegations of a conflict of interest created by his dual roles he resigned in April 2012.
bodies are commonplace if there is even a perceived conflict of interest. Last night, a Harvard University expert on business and political eth-
‘You need transparency for fair decisions’
ics criticised the SEAI’s failure to be more transparent. ‘That’s a legal answer. That’s not an ethical answer.
Compliance is not ethics,’ said Jeffrey Seglin of the university’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr Seglin said Mr Halligan’s dual role, while not illegal, was likely to be ethically problematic. ‘Is it ethical? Probably not. ‘There’s a conflict of interest where the person stands to gain financially so there could very well be ethical issues with this, regardless of whether it’s legal to do. ‘At the very least, you need transparency about what steps you are going to be taking to make sure
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