Urgency required Tim Twomey to drive to Dublin from his home in the upper Lee Valley in West Cork in late September.
He had to submit an appeal against a proposed wind farm and had only a day to spare. So he got on the road, driving towards Macroom, and from there on to Cork city and the motorway north.
“What struck me by the time I was hitting Dublin was how many wind farms I saw along the way,” he says. “And the fact of it is that I saw more before I hit Macroom than I did between there and Dublin. That tells a lot.”
In less than 20km, along the road through the upper Lee Valley, from the historic Gougane Barra, through the towns of Ballingeary and Inchigeela, wind farms are all the rage. Or, perhaps a cause of some rage.
There are six farms, either operational or in the construction or planning stages. All have been the subject of fierce resistance locally.
In one instance, a case went all the way to the Supreme Court. This one was up and running but the court stopped it and a process to retain the structure is under way.
When and if all are fully operational, there will be few spots along the main road through the valley from which turbines won’t be visible.
That presents a visibility issue for locals, particularly in an area reliant on tourism. It also means the other concerns around wind turbines take on a greater significance when so many are congregated in a relatively small area.
“It will end up like War of the Worlds,” Twomey says, referring to the landscape.
“I’m not against wind farms. Previously I worked in the nuclear industry. I get the needs of energy but everybody in society should take their fair share. This is not a nimby (not in my back yard) thing.
“We have done more than enough here and you’re talking about an area of outstanding natural beauty.
“People come here from all over the world so why defile this place?”
The latest application concerned a farm, part of which would overlook the historic Gougane Barra, where St Finbarr is reputed to have laid his hat for some time back in the sixth century.
The church on the lip of the lake dates from the end of the 19th century and was built on a site of ruins dating from penal times.
The location is a favourite for weddings and a major tourist attraction.
The proposed wind farm is for seven turbines, including blade spans reaching 178m, an electricity substation, and a battery storage unit.
Cork County Council rejected the application, but both the developer and local people have appealed the decision, the former in order to go ahead with the project, the latter to ensure that it never goes ahead.
For a group to appeal a decision that went in its favour is an unusual step and demonstrates the level of feeling that the wind farms are now generating.
The application was turned down because of the excessive height of the turbines, visual impact on scenic routes, and the proximity to the “key tourist attraction” of Gougane Barra.
The local group that is appealing claims the proliferation of wind farms in the area was not taken into account. Its appeal points to four other farms in the upper Lee Valley.
“The cumulative impact of all four of these wind farms on the Lee Valley and the Shehy Mountains is only now becoming apparent,” the appeal reads.
“Since the refusal of this application by Cork County Council, the 11 131m turbines at Shehy More have been erected and the first three of the five 140m turbines at Carrigarierk have now gone up…Cork County Council primary planner’s report failed to take into account the impact of Shehy More and Carrigarierk Windfarms when describing the cumulative impact of wind farms in the area because none of the turbines had been erected when the planner visited the area.
“The drive to Gougane Barra and the Pass of Keimaneigh along the north bank of Lough Allua (scenic route S34) is now impacted by all four of these wind farms.”
Neil Lucey, who owns the Gougane Barra Hotel beside the lake, says that tourism and wind farming don’t go.
“My family are here since the 1850s,” he says.
“We are trying to promote tourism in this iconic tourist area and trying to promote rural business and another part of the council is trying to produce wind turbines.”
His point is well made, but it is also the case that the council is obliged to follow national policy, which is focused on garnering huge amounts of renewable energy and a major reduction in carbon emissions.
Wind is one of the main components of this policy.
Michael Murnane, the man whose companies are behind all of the farms in the area, is also a local man. His main company, Enerco Ltd, is based in nearby Lissarda.
Throughout the country, the same problem is repeatedly arising – how to promote and operate wind energy without impacting on the lives of what is a very scattered population.
When contacted, Michael Murnane said he does not want to comment on any individual case as that would not be the correct thing to do.
He was happy, however, to talk in general terms about feelings locally among some people about the developments.
“I would know a lot of people in the area and I’ve met them and I have no problem in meeting people,” he says. “But different people do different things for different reasons, but that’s ok.”
“And anybody who has issues they know where the office is and we’ve no problem in meeting people or giving additional drawings and I want to be clear from my perspective that everybody has to be respected.”
He says that wind is necessary to supply the country’s energy needs going into the future but it is not the only answer.
“We all must face up to the fact that we must make changes,” he says.
“We need a mix: Wind, battery, solar, and whatever else is required. We have to adapt and change. And wind is only a part of that mix.”
One of the issues that the local group in the upper Lee Valley have with the wind farms developed by Murnane companies is that different vehicles are used for each one. Reference to this is made in the group’s current appeal to An Bord Pleanála against the Gougane Barra wind farm.
“Enerco Energy Ltd is engaged in the massive-scale industrial development of a scenic part of West Cork,” it says.
“The many different applications by different subsidiaries of Enerco Energy are extremely confusing.
“Local residents are forced to respond individually to each of these applications to protect their homes, the precious landscape, and environment of the area. This is at a cost of considerable time, money, and stress to individuals, families, and communities,” the appeal states.
There is nothing unusual in different subsidiaries being used for separate developments. In a large corporate structure, it is more often than not simply a matter of proper organisation and financial structuring.
What really emerges from the conflict between the two sides is the vacuum in which both developers and residents find themselves. Official Government policy is to utilise wind as a major element of renewable energy yet the State has displayed a largely hands-off approach to developments.
The system is effectively set up to pitch developers against residents, rather than proactively attempting to get buy-in locally and ensure that the spread of developments is handled in an even-handed manner.
The most obvious shortcoming in this respect from successive governments has been the failure to produce proper guidelines for wind farm developments.
The existing guidelines date from 2006, which in terms of technical and environmental development is the Stone Age.
Since then, there has been a series of attempts to update the guidelines. At each juncture, successive ministers have stalled, scared stiff of alienating either large tracts of rural Ireland on one hand or the development that is a central plank of national policy on the other.
The latest stop in this merry-go-round occurred last December with the publication of draft guidelines. This was then thrown open to public consultation, which is the station at which previous attempts failed.
The consultation closed in February, according to a statement from the Department of Housing.
“Almost 500 submissions were received as part of the public consultation, many of which are extremely detailed and technical in nature…finalised guidelines will be prepared following detailed analysis and consideration of the submissions received during the consultation phase.”
The statement adds that the Government is committed to producing the finalised guidelines by the end of this year. This kind of commitment has been given at other various points over the last eight years or so.
Mr Murnane agrees that the guidelines are long overdue.
“We have for the last five years been adhering strictly to what we predict the new guidelines will be,” he says.
“Everybody is entitled to fair play and to make observations and that is the correct thing to do. We should all be professional in that regard.”
In the upper Lee Valley, as in numerous other flashpoints across rural Ireland, there are differing views as to what is professional, appropriate, and necessary.
Last week, Tim Twomey was on the road again, making an essential trip. The appeal in An Bord Pleanála has rumbled on to a point where all sides are asked for observations of submissions made by their opponents.
Having been let down by An Post’s Express system, he says, he had no choice but to deliver by hand.
The fight goes on. Rural Ireland is angry over a belief that it is being asked to do far more than its fair share. The planet burns. And in the corridors of power, decision-makers are continuing to sit on their hands.
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