A plan for six wind turbines in Co Cork has to be considered as part of an overall assessment of how they will be connected to the national power grid, the High Court has found.
An environmental impact assessment of the 100m high turbines cannot be considered separately from the grid connection which could involve overhead or underground power lines, Mr Justice Michael Peart said.
As a result, the judge quashed a decision of An Bord Pleanála granting permission to Framore Ltd for the wind farm at Réidh na nDoirí, Ballingeary, Co Cork.
He rejected arguments by the board and Framore that the turbines and the grid connection were separate projects and that the connection would have to be assessed separately.
Framore said it was simply not possible for it to include the grid connection in the environmental impact assessment for the turbines because no proposals had yet been formulated by ESB Networks for the design of such a connection.
A number of local families had brought the action seeking to have the permission for the turbines quashed on grounds including that there had not been a proper assessment of the impact noise from the turbines would have on their homes.
They also said the grid connection issue should also have been considered as part of the application in compliance with an EU directive on environmental impact assessments.
Mr Justice Peart, while rejecting the residents’ argument that the environmental assessment for the turbines was flawed, said he was satisfied the grid connection was an integral and fundamental to the overall project. Without it, the turbine development would serve no function, he said.
The cumulative effect of both phases of the project must be assessed to comply with the EU directive, he said.
While Framore was “at the mercy of ESB Networks” over the connection, this could not absolve it from compliance with the directive in every respect.
If both elements of the project were not considered as one in terms of environmental impact, then Framore would be running the risk that all would have been in vain if there was a negative cumulative assessment when the planners were dealing with the grid connection.
Afterwards, the residents’ solicitor, Joe Noonan, of Noonan Linehan Carroll Coffey, said this was the first High Court decision to deal with the “split project” issue on wind turbine projects. He said new planning guidelines on wind turbines were long overdue.
“There has been a rush to permit wind power generation plants in quiet rural areas across the country. Rushed planning is bad planning and that can cause serious harm to people,” he said. “Meanwhile communities and private individuals have the worry and expense of taking court action to protect their homes and their way of life”, he said.
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