Major review of Kildare wind farm policy promised

Niamh O’Donoghue

Reporter:

Niamh O’Donoghue

File photo: Wind turbine.
Kildare’s County Manager has promised a major review of the county’s wind farm policy.

Kildare’s County Manager has promised a major review of the county’s wind farm policy.

The move came as a result of two motions put before the council yesterday, October 21 - one from Labour and one from Independent Cllr Padraig McEvoy. The local representatives were contacted by local campaigners, who are concerned about the possible impact of wind farms on people’s health, property values, the bloodstock industry and visual impact on the landscape. The motions had called for variations in the county development plan in relation to turbine set back distances and wind energy regulations.

Similar motions have been passed by Westmeath and Offaly County Councils as well as the Athy and Kildare area committees.

However, the motions were not put to a vote, as council officials said they were starting work on a review of the policy. Director of Services, John Lahart said there was a lot of work involved and it was hoped to have that review paper before the council for the December meeting. County Manager, Michael Malone said he would then look at possibly making a variation in the plan.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr. McEvoy welcomed the commitment by the council to commence a review.

“The council are looking to address policy gaps within the County Development Plan and how these relate to wind strategies across Meath, Wicklow and the Midlands region,” said Cllr. McEvoy.

“Neighbouring counties have identified preferred areas suited to certain types of wind farms and other areas for conservation. We don’t want to see developer-led proposals in Kildare being given a free hand. The Council will undertake local research while national policies are being developed and will report back on options before Christmas.”

A number of local campaigners were in the public gallery at Aras Chill Dara.

Element Power plan to lodge an application in mid 2014 for 750 185m wind turbines across five counties including West Kildare. Mainstream’s has told the Leader it has no plans for standalone wind farms in Kildare although it has signed up four farmers near the Offaly border. It is planning 400 turbines across seven counties at 160m high.

Bord Na Mona also has hopes to build wind turbines on its cutaway bogs in the west of the county. It has already received planning permission for a wind monitoring mast at bogland at Blackwater bog near Rathangan, and a similar application for Timahoe is due to be decided by Kildare County Council by the end of this month.

The Element Power and Mainstream company’s have said their applications will go straight to An Bord Pleanala and although the board will have to have regard for county development plans, they are not obliged to abide by them.

At the meeting, Mr. Lahart said the board would have to consult the council and take on board the views of the public when they are adjudicating the applications.

Cllr. Mark Wall said the county development plan needed significant improvement in terms of its wind energy policy. He said it was one of the most important developments that had come before the council in some time.

“I think the main concern of people is the height of these turbines, they are proposing 185m high turbines,” added Cllr Brendan Weld.

Cllr. Fiona O’Loughlin criticised the companies involved for a lack of communication with local people on the ground. She said it was important the council take on board the strong views held by communities in relation to noise, and shadow flicker.

Cllr. Tony O’Donnell said the concerned residents who have been holding these meetings across the west of Kildare were reasonable people who had genuine concerns. He said the energy was destined for the UK market, but he asked what would happen if the UK decided to reach their renewable energy targets through other means, or pulled out of the targets altogether, and decided to pursue nuclear power. He said it had already announced it was building a new nuclear power station.

“Ireland would be left with a wasteland of wind turbines,” he reiterated his views from the Kildare Area Committee meeting on October 16.

He also said it is also common that companies sell on the wind farm once they are built, and locals were concerned about who would then be responsible for them if problems arose.

Cllr Martin Miley said it was important the council act now to review it’s policies.

Cllr Richard Daly emphasised that he was mainly concerned with the visual impact of turbines.

“They need to be very well controlled nationally,” he said.

Cllr. Doyle asked for someone to address them with independent advice, while the turbine height of the turbines was also of concern to Cllr. Paddy Kennedy.

Meanwhile, CEO of Element Power Ireland, Tim Cowhig stressed An Bord Pleanála will not rule on any wind energy export project until a Government commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is in place,

“The SEA should not be confused with the Department of the Environment guidelines, a draft of which is due to be published next month. These guidelines will then be the subject of a public consultation process with a view to a final version being published around mid-2014. Element Power does not intend applying for planning permission ahead of these guidelines being agreed,” he said.

Element Power has stressed the economic, and employment benefits of wind farms. It says thousands of people live beside turbines all over the world and there is no impact on people’s health, property or livestock. They stress they’ve held numerous information days and are willing to engage with communities. They point out there is no evidence of any impact of turbines on stud farms or livestock. They also point out that the areas involved will benefit from a significant community fund.

Mainstream has delayed its application until after the environmental assessment has been completed.