A large elevated area of Old Parish, flanking the N25 west of Dungarvan, has been identified as the most suitable location for windmill farms in County Waterford, according to a Wind Energy Strategy Study commissioned by the County Council.
The Study aims to protect landscapes deemed to be ‘most sensitive’ and to guide wind energy interests to areas judged to the least sensitive area more tolerant of change. Some of the most sensitive landscapes identified included the area of mountainous land in the centre of the county, the Copper Coast, the Blackwater Valley and the approach to the Vee.
The county is otherwise approximately evenly split between ‘preferred areas’ and areas open to ‘consideration’ for wind farms. Wind energy is also considered to be unsuitable in the Lickey Valley region and the Comeragh Mountains overlooking South Tipperary is also a ‘no-go’ area.
Dungarvan and Tramore were also ‘immediately unsuitable’ for wind energy due to the restrictions of 400m separation distance between wind farms and dwelling houses.
The wind farm strategy aims to strike a balance between protecting Waterford’s high quality landscapes and identifying locations where renewable energy potential can be positively exploited. Maps have been prepared to indicate where wind farms might be acceptable.
In recent years, Waterford County Council dealt with eight planning applications for wind farming projects and a further five applications for wind monitoring masts. Permission was granted for six wind farms and no decision was made in the case of the two remaining projects. Four of the projects granted permission were appealed to An Bord Pleanala and three of them were refused and one granted. Permission was granted for only one monitoring mast and one was refused with no decision being made on a further three.
The guidelines for wind energy locations make use of six landscape character types as a basis for providing recommendations for the best sites and design developments. Considered best is mountain moorland, hilly and flat farm land, transitional marginal farm land, urban/industrial, coast and flat peat land. Two public consultation meetings were held in Dungarvan and Tramore to consult with local people regarding the development of renewable energy strategy for the county.
Despite diverse views, ranging from very pro-development to highly conservative, ‘common ground’ was recognisable when all the maps were collectively reviewed. Not surprisingly, according to the Study Report, mountainous areas in the centre of the county and to the north of the county were fund to have the greatest wind resource followed by the coastal zone.
Low lying areas such as the Blackwater Valley as well as lands to the lee of high mountains tended to have wind speeds less than 8m/s and were not commercially attractive to prospective wind farm developers.
The Study pointed out that it was a requirement that wind turbines be set back a distance of at least 400m from dwelling houses due mainly to possible problems from noise. County Waterford had a rather dense scattering of houses in rural settings, most typically in low-lying areas. There were a lot of areas outside of the high mountains where there were so many houses that there seemed little potential for any wind development.
The wind strategy, which is to be included in the County Development Plan, is based on the recommendations in the planning guidelines for wind energy with particular emphasis on the issue of landscape. It combines the core issues of landscape character, sensitivity and wind speeds.
County Waterford was divided into four ‘acceptability’ classes, strategic areas, preferred areas, areas open to consideration and no-go areas. The draft plan drawn up in the Study aims to protect those landscapes deemed to be most sensitive and to guide wind energy interests to those areas which were judged to be more tolerant of change.
Waterford Co. Council has received a total of six submissions on the new Wind Energy Strategy Study for the county. The main issues claim that the strategy made no attempt to assess the wind energy potential of the county and its impact on climate change and the exclusion of the Comeragh Mountains as a location for wind farms.
The Marquis of Waterford, Curraghmore, Portlaw, submitted a request that an area of the Comeragh Mountains be included in the zoning as a ‘preferred location’ for wind energy on the basis that it was one of the very best sites for wind in Waterford. There was no population living within a mile of the area and there was no visibility from scenic routes.
In reply, the County Manager, Ray O’Dwyer, recommended ‘no change’ in zoning and stated that the land recommended to the Council by the Marquis was included within the boundary of the Comeragh Mountains SAC designated for its habitat interest of blanket bog. It was also designated for its landscape amenity value in the County Waterford Development Plan 2005-2011 being classified ‘sensitive’ and visually vulnerable. To alter the ‘no-go’ zoning would compromise the conservation and landscape value of the area.
A submission was made by J.C. Keane, Wing House, Cappoquin, who claimed the strategy was deficient as it did not attempt to access the energy potential of “acceptability types” and the contribution the county could make to climate change.
He also submitted that zones of acceptability should be amended to take into account that wind farms using a small number of very large machines could be installed within afforested areas without the need to remove the tress.
Mr. O’Dwyer said, at this stage, any estimation would not reliable as there was no way of predicting the number and capacity of turbines that may be proposed for development in the medium or long term. Nor was it possible to foresee the outcome of the planning process.
While the installations of wind farms in forested areas was valid, there currently existed a moratorium on the clear felling of trees in the Pearl Mussel catchments which was the basis for amending the original Lickey Catchment from a strategic zoning to a ‘no-go’ zoning. The Department of the Environment was in the process of preparing catchment management plans for regional populations of fresh water mussels.
The members of the County Council have six weeks to consider the manager’s report on the variations to the Development Plan and, at that stage, may decided to adopt the variations.
By Michael Quinn
4 January 2008
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