Conservationists in Co Donegal have criticised An Bord Pleanála for approving plans by businessman PJ Molloy for 13 “industrial” wind turbines in a scenic Gaeltacht area near Glenties.
Mr Molloy had originally sought permission for 35 Vesta-90 turbines, each with a hub height of 80m and a blade diameter of 90m, but Donegal County Council reduced the number to 19 after seeking further information from the developer.
The Department of the Environment had expressed concern that the proposed wind farm “could significantly damage or destroy” the habitats of freshwater pearl mussel, Atlantic salmon and otters – all protected species under the EU habitats directive.
In its decision, which was subject to 22 conditions, the board required the omission of six of the 19 turbines “to reduce the risk of habitat degradation and environmental pollution associated with development in these locations”.
The board decided, by five votes to two, to grant permission having regard to the National Renewable Energy Action Plan to deliver 40 per cent of electricity from renewable resources by 2020 and the department’s planning guidelines on wind energy.
It also took into account the “general suitability” of the site for a wind farm due to the wind resource available there, and the fact that it lay outside the areas excluded for wind farm development under Donegal County Council’s current development plan.
Other reasons given were that the scale and extent of the proposed development had been reduced relative to the topography of the area, and that permission had already been granted to the ESB for a 110-kilovolt transmission line in the vicinity.
However the locally based Gweebarra Conservation Group said: “No one would sanction felling trees in the rain forest to erect wind turbines yet this is precisely what the Government is doing by giving tax incentives to private investors to destroy our hills and bogs. The boglands in these Gaeltacht townlands . . . are just as important as the rain forests in absorbing CO2.
“These are precious habitats that support a large variety of protected species as well as Irish-speaking families who have lived in this beautiful valley for generations.”
It also expressed concern about health dangers associated with the high-voltage power lines needed to transmit the electricity generated by wind farms. “These power lines are proven to increase cancer rates if located within 2km of people’s homes.”
However another objector, Gerry McKenna, said he believed “we did pretty well reducing the number of turbines from 35 to 13”.
These would also be “well out of sight of the beautiful landscape in the area”, he added.