Two years ago, former president Mary Robinson narrated a video to mark the 25th anniversary of the Irish Wind Energy Association, pointing out that Ireland’s first wind farm was built in Bellacorick, Co Mayo in 1992.
Proudly noting her home county’s involvement, Robinson backed the contribution that wind energy could make in the battle against climate change, saying that climate justice demanded “complete human solidarity”.
In one clip, one of the contributors to the video asked: “What’s not to like about wind?” In rural Kerry and north Cork, however, there are increasing numbers who seem to be finding an issue.
Kerry, along with Cork and Donegal, already has the highest number of wind farms in the country. More than 300 turbines have been raised in designated areas in Kerry, the county’s acting senior planner, Damien Ginty told councillors last year.
Thirty-eight more are under construction there; 10 are awaiting decisions from An Bord Pleanála (ABP) and eight are being judicially reviewed, he said. It is believed that dozens more have planning permission.
Currently, the second-biggest wind farm in the country, Grousemount, is being constructed along the Cork-Kerry border by Kerry Wind Power Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ESB.
The wind farm, stretching from the highest pub in Ireland, the Top of Coom, across 32 townlands, is due to commence operation late this year, but turbines are already visible from Moll’s Gap and from parts of the Killarney National Park, including much of the Kerry Way.
Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae faced the anger about wind turbines of Sliabh Luachra locals at a meeting in Gneeveguilla called to raise funds to campaign against another wind farm.
“He was run out of it,” said one of those present.
Healy-Rae had come to sympathise and to talk about his colourfully-expressed views on climate change, but the mood turned when a local woman pointed out that Healy-Rae trucks were serving the Grousemount construction.
Was it not true, she asked, that the more wind farms went up, the better it was for “the Healy-Rae empire in Kilgarvan”. Soon, people walked out when his daughter, Cllr Maura Healy-Rae, tried to defend her father.
Later, the Healy-Raes pointed out they were not directly involved in wind farm construction, with Cllr Johnny Healy-Rae telling local radio that they were simply subcontracted as hauliers to quarries.
The meeting in Gneeveguilla had been called after ABP gave the green light to Tralee-based company Silver Birch Renewables for 150m-high turbines in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, the old Gaelic heartland of music and language.
Kerry County Council had turned down the proposal, saying it would it would seriously injure the life of the local community. However, the planning appeals body granted permission for 12 of the 14 turbines.
Two were refused because of the potential to affect the protected hen harrier. However, ABP did not consider the impact on human health of noise and shadow flicker, saying this was beyond its remit.
The latter decision prompted anger among locals, who argued the needs of the hen harrier were taken into account but theirs had not been. Some of the turbines will be just 500m away from homes.
A local campaign group, Sliabh Luachra Wind Awareness, has already engaged a Dublin legal firm and has raised tens of thousands of euro to challenge the ruling in court. However, the total cost of the legal challenge means they will have to raise a total of €115,000.
But they must do so, says the group’s chairman Fred O’ Sullivan, who believes the march of “monstrous” turbines into heartland of the Gaelic poets Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin and Aogán Ó Rathaille must be stopped.
A hearing date for the legal challenge has been set for October and Silver Birch Renewables and ABP have until May 1st to confirm they are fighting the case.
Mixed messages have come from the State. Councils had been keen to offer planning permission, believing that the turbines would be placed in upland areas away from dwellings.
Meanwhile, the Government announced new guidelines nearly two years ago, in June 2017, to ensure that Ireland could deliver on its climate-change targets while addressing “the genuine concerns of local communities”.
Tougher noise limits would be imposed to meet World Health Organisation standards, and checks would be made to ensure that the targets were met. Turbines would be placed no nearer than 500m from houses.
Meanwhile, “shadow flicker” – where rotating turbines cast shadows into windows – would be eliminated while wind farms would have to deliver more benefits for the communities in which they are placed. Two years on, the guidelines are still in draft form, though a final version is expected shortly.
Kerry County Council had been keen on wind farms. North Kerry was classified as a landscape of no scenic value in the Kerry county development plan, to pave the way for the creation of wind farms. Many were built.
In January, however, ABP surprisingly turned down plans for turbines at Aghanagran Lower near Ballylongford, deciding that its impact on the Shannon special area of conservation had not been considered enough.
The council, to some degree, finds itself in no-man’s land as now wind farms with turbines three times the size of those that were contemplated a decade ago are winning planning permission from ABP for low-lying districts, councillors say.
“People were granted planning for their homes. The quality of their lives is being put at risk now,” Killarney councillor John Joe Culloty of Fianna Fáil said, adding that the planning board’s decision to rule out the health effect of the Sliabh Luachra turbines was “outrageous”.
Saying that Kerry’s appeal to tourists was being destroyed, Sinn Féin councillor Pa Daly, from Tralee, said: “If you want to build a school or a house it has to be set into the landscape. That’s not the case with wind turbines.”
‘Our home is becoming hell now’
Caroline Cooke, in her own words, has found herself living a nightmare since February 2018, when the Scart Energy wind farm began operating at Barna, Scartaglen, near Castleisland in Co Kerry.
Five of the 15 125m-high turbines which encircle her home are within the 500m guidelines set by Kerry County Council, but these are guidelines, not limits. Three are just 370m from her front door.
Cooke and her husband Peter moved to Barna in 1996 to do up an old farmhouse, a magnificent stone-fronted building. There they reared four children, two now at university and two in secondary school.
“Our home is becoming hell now. We feel we are being evicted,” said Cooke, adding that the “constant droning, whipping, whooshing sound totally disrupts” sleep.
“Shadow flicker affects us horrendously throughout the year,” she added. “During summer, on the sunny evenings the gross intrusion of shadow flicker invaded our home, yard and garden. You could not even sit out and enjoy our lovely garden.”
There is no respite, Cooke says, as the turbines operate 24 hours a day.
“We are very easy-going people. We just wanted a quiet little place. We worked hard, bought our house, invested our lives in our home and family. For 200 years families have been raised in this house. It really does upset me. It’s total obliteration.”
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