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Wind farm planning decision ‘a complete turnaround’, says wind energy expert

A wind energy expert with previous involvement in the Toon Valley area has described as ‘a complete turnaround’ the recent granting of permission for an 11-turbine wind farm in Cleanrath and Derreneanig in the Toon Valley.

Dietrich Mayer, who was involved in planning a smaller wind farm in Cleanrath in 2003, is surprised at permission granted for a bigger farm with much greater visibility in a scenic area.

The original wind farm was at first rejected by the planning authority but given permission following a new application.

However, the wind farm was not developed as it wasn’t regarded as being economically viable at the time.

Mr Mayer expressed his surprise at the visibility of the planned new turbines as much of the discussion with the planning authority in 2003 pertained to the visual impact in a scenic area. The original plan was reduced from an 11-turbine farm and was pushed further back and much lower due to those concerns, he said.

‘We had a lot of discussion about the visual and environmental impact with Cork County Council and the requirement always was that it should be in accordance with a sustainable environment from a planning point of view, which meant that it shouldn’t be seen from scenic points in the valley, which we thought was okay,’ Mr Mayer said.

He added that those turbines would only have been seen from one to two points and not permanently from the Lee Valley. ‘You can’t compare it to what is being developed now,’ Mr Mayer said, adding that they would be seen from Toonsbridge, Cill na Martra and the Lee Valley. ‘There is no place you can’t see them from,’ he said. ‘They will really stick out,’ he added.

‘That’s an extreme change,’ Mr Mayer said, and one he said he would never have expected to receive planning. ‘It is a complete turnaround’, he added.

‘The guidelines haven’t changed so I can’t understand why it would have gone through,’ Mr Mayer said, adding that these turbines are twice as high as those originally planned. He believes the new proposal violates all the guidelines.

Noise levels

Mr Mayer also has reservations about the noise levels which he says are estimated at 43.5 decibels 600m from a dwelling, which he describes as very high. He quotes the European Wind Energy Association as having 43–45 decibel guideline in a mixed area of dwellings and small businesses. In excess of 35 decibels is not allowed in sensitive areas in Germany, he says. Noise levels, he explained, increase logarithmically with three decibels doubling noise levels.

In the previous planning process Mr Mayer says the location of a planned turbine was changed due to proximity to a nearby house.

That house would now be more severely impacted, he said. It would need to be 800–1,000m away to be acceptable from a noise point of view, he said.

Mr Mayer has been developing wind farms for the past 20 years. ‘Ireland is a small country but there are lots of places you can build wind farms without being too close to residential areas, environmentally sensitive and scenic areas,’ Mr Mayer said.