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Local takes case against multi-million euro wind farm project over proposed community compensation

A local man has claimed the basis of a planning approval for a multi-million Euro wind farm project in Co Mayo means substantially less financial compensation for the local community, writes Ann O’Loughlin.

The High Court case concerns the June 2016 approval for a 75 turbine wind farm planned by Oweninny Power DAC, a consortium of Bord na Mona and the ESB.

Dermot McDonnell, from Castlebar, whose background is in financial analysis of natural resource assets, claims An Bord Pleanala accepted “ridiculously low” wind speed data which failed to show “how rich this resource will be”.

That acceptance will mean much less “community gain” – compensation developers must pay into a fund for the benefit of the local community, he contends.

“Community gain” has become a condition of ABP approvals for energy projects for well over a decade.

Mayo County Council had recommended the developers pay “community gain “ of €10,000 per installed MW per annum, index linked, for Oweninny. The Board’s approval means the developers pay a €1,000 per installed MW, it is claimed.

In court on Tuesday, Mr McDonnell said data provided to the Board suggests an “utterly mediocre” wind farm rather than the “finest performing wind farm in the country”.

The Board, he argued, had a duty to ensure the planning application met a standard required by law and to do a due diligence on what was provided to it by the developers and it should have rejected the data as “inadequate and deceptive”.

Mr McDonnell, representing himself, told Mr Justice Richard Haughton he and local people supporting his case, several of whom were in court, are “not NIMBYs”.

He said he supports wind farming but has “serious concerns” about this project, the largest natural resources project since the Corrib gas field.

In court documents, he said “the last thing Mayo needs is another disastrous natural resources project”. Everything should be “open and above board” and the Oweninny project “comes nowhere near meeting that standard”, he said.

He wondered if there was “any good reason” the developers cannot sign up to the community benefit scheme adopted by the Council after “proper due diligence”.

He said a key part of his case concerns the 2013 Wind Atlas of Ireland – a digital map of Ireland’s wind energy resources. The Atlas showed significant quantities of power had disappeared “on paper” from wind farms but he had been unable to get precise information from the relevant agencies concerning wind speeds from other developments concerning that, he said.

His concern was that projects had suffered this “dramatic fall” in the wind resource and how the State, “at the stroke of a pen”, can do that.

Yesterday’s (tues) hearing was taken up with a preliminary objection by the Board and developer arguing his case was taken outside the legal time limits for judicial review and Mr McDonnell was not entitled to the necessary extension of time to allow it proceed.

After finding the case was brought outside the relevant time limits, the judge heard arguments whether he should grant the necessary extension of time. He will rule on that issue on Wednesday.

Mr McDonnell said the delay arose because he could not afford lawyers, misunderstood the legal requirements for moving the case forward and had also undergone surgery affecting his hands. Emily Egan SC, for the Board, and Brian Murray SC, for the developer, opposed any extension of time and said no grounds were made out for that.