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Government help for wind farm jeopardised by farmer – company claims

A company claims Government assistance for a €26m wind farm project is being jeopardised by a farmer’s refusal to comply with an agreement he made to permit cabling work to be carried on his land, the Commercial Court heard.

Joseph Henry, who has a small farm near the Mayo/Sligo border, claims however Black Lough Windfarm Ltd is using “bully boy” tactics by taking the case against him in the High Court’s commercial division.

On Monday, Mr Justice Robert Haughton admitted Black Lough’s case against Mr Henry to the Commercial Court after rejecting opposition to entry by his lawyer.

Black Lough director, Declan Rouse, said in an affidavit planning permission for the wind farm at Tawnamore, Co Sligo, was granted in June 2017.

Part of the permission included an underground connection to an ESB substation at Glencree via lands in Mayo and Sligo.

That route includes 0.3 hectares at Bonniconlon, Mayo, owned by Mr Henry.

Black Lough entered into an agreement with him on June 26, 2017, whereby he granted wayleave for the laying of cables and pipes over his land on payment of €1,000, Mr Rouse said.

A cheque for €1,000 was made over to him which he accepted, Mr Rouse said.

Subsequently, revised monetary terms were agreed whereby the company would pay him another €15,000 along with any reasonable legal costs he incurred.

However, Mr Rouse said, last September, Mr Henry’s solicitor wrote to say he no longer considered himself bound by the wayleave agreement. Mediation was proposed but Mr Henry failed to respond, he said.

Black Lough, which says it has spent €3.6m on the project so far, is seeking to avail of a Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment scheme whereby renewable energy generators are guaranteed a minimum price for electricity fed into the national grid for 15 years. The deadline under the scheme for connection to the grid is December 31 next and the wind turbines must be operational by March 2020.

Mr Rouse said the continued failure/refusal of Mr Henry to execute the wayleave agreement will jeopardise Black Lough’s ability to meet that deadline.

Jarlath Fitzsimons SC, for Black Lough, told Mr Justice Haughton the application for admission to the commercial list was due to the urgency of the matter and because the overall value of the project was well in excess of the €1m threshold for admission to Commercial Court.

Peter Shanley BL, for Mr Henry, said the application by Black Lough was “standard bully boy tactics” against a small farmer.

He opposed entry to the commercial list because this was a case about the specific performance of an agreement with a maximum value of €17,000 and which was well below the €1m threshold. It was simply an effort to exert pressure on his client, he said.

Mr Justice Haughton said given the value of the investment, he was satisfied the case did meet the threshold for admission to the fast-track commercial list.

He also granted an adjournment for two weeks after he was told the parties had agreed to consider mediation.