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Politics of Peat  

Author:  | Environment, Health, Ireland, U.K., Wildlife

Lessons from the Derrybrien landslide

One of Ireland’s largest wind-power sites is the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) scheme on Cashlaundrumlahan, the highest, at 368m, of the Slieve Aughty Mountains in Co Galway. A 71-turbine, 60 MW project built on 850 acres of blanket bog, it lies about a kilometre north of Derrybrien, near Gort. …

Three months into the project, on October 16 [2003], about half a million tonnes of bog began to slide from a turbine base on the south of the site down the hillside towards the Portumna-Derrybrien road before coming to a halt two days later about 1.5 km from its point of origin. (See map, page 6.)

Following heavy rain on October 28, the displaced peat again began to move. Contractors moved in at dawn to erect check dams and tried to divert water from the slide channel but to no effect. Uprooting thousands of trees, the displaced peat continued to slide into waterways east of the village before pouring into the nearby Abhainn Da Loilioch river. This carried the debris about 15 km downriver into Lough Cutra. Several hundred acres of farmland were despoiled and the fishery authorities reported that 50,000 fish choked on the sludge.

In the aftermath, the ESB and the local authority published reports acknowledging that site construction activity was to blame. ESB’s engineering arm and the site contractor received small fines for pollution offences. Community campaigners, frustrated by what they saw as official indifference to the issues raised by the case, appealed to the European Union’s Environment Directorate-General to intervene. With a robustness that took many by surprise, the Commissioner has commenced legal proceedings against the Irish government, describing the incident in January 2005 as ‘an environmental disaster’. The case is ongoing. …

It is not generally understood even by many developers, that peat is an organic soil which, when disturbed, tends to dry out over time. This process releases significant quantities of CO2 to atmosphere. Opinions differ as to the extent of this oxidation but even conservative calculations suggest a conflict between the stated aims of wind-power development (reduction of CO2 emissions) and the reality of their construction on peatland.

Nor is it acknowledged that the extensive drainage without which the turbines cannot be erected on peat soils both reduces the stability of the habitat and leads to its degradation over time. As Lindsay & Bragg show, the attempt to construct Derrybrien without drainage failed and the site has since been aggressively drained. The experience was similiar at Cefn Croes (see pages 27-29). It is disappointing that environmental lobbyists
are reticent on this.

In a similar vein, strident denunciations in Holyrood and elsewhere of those who voice concerns about peatslide suggest a degree of possibly dangerous complacency on the part of some decision makers. They contrast with the proper public scrutiny that followed other landslides in Scotland in recent years.

Download original document: “The Politics of Peat

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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