Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has told Donegal councillors to drop recent amendments to the county plan that would place new restrictions on wind energy development, contrary to national policy.
In June, not long after the local elections, the councillors decided to amend the plan so that there would be a minimum distance between homes and wind turbines equivalent to 10 times their “tip height”.
Given the scale of new wind turbines, this would have required separation distances of up to 2km – four times longer than the 500m provided for under national guidelines on wind energy development.
Despite being warned of a conflict with Government policy, the councillors decided to adopt the restriction by 18 votes to 11, with one abstention, after receiving more than 3,000 submissions from the public.
Manager’s warning The council also decided, by 16 votes to 13, to protect the rare Fresh Water Pearl Mussel at Clady, Eske, Glaskeelin, Leannan, Owencarrow and Owenea, ruling out these areas as suitable for wind farms.
A third restriction, adopted by 21 votes to nine, would prohibit the development of wind farms within the “zone of visual influence” of Glenveagh Castle, its visitor centre or walking trails around Lough Beagh.
The councillors were warned by Donegal county manager Séamus Neely that the Department of the Environment’s advice was that the amendments should be deferred pending a national policy review.
However, councillors went ahead and adopted the amendments despite opposition from the department, the Border Regional Authority and several other bodies, including the Irish Wind Energy Association.
Cathaoirleach Cllr John Campbell (Ind) denied that the amendments were too restrictive in a county that has seen more wind turbines developed in recent years than any other in the State.
‘Triumph for democracy’ He claimed that it would still leave some 50,000 hectares, equivalent to 10 per cent on Donegal’s land area, available for further wind energy development – and this was “more than enough”, he said.
The council’s decision was warmly welcomed by the Glenties Windfarm Information Group, whose spokesman said it was a “triumph for democracy” and “vindication” of the 3,326 people who had called for it.
However, the Minister has now issued a “draft direction” under section 31 of the 2000 Planning Act, requiring the council to reinstate the previous regime, in line with planning guidelines on wind energy.
Mr Kelly has already issued a final direction to Roscommon County Council setting aside similar restrictions there. And this “is now deemed to be incorporated into the county development plan”.
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