There is increasing concern in the Bunclody area over plans by Coillte to construct a major windfarm development near Mount Leinster.
Such is the level of concern about the project, that over 2.500 people have already signed a petition against the plan.
The proposal makes provision for the development, on the Carlow side of the border, of seven turbines with proposed heights of 178m which would be significantly higher than any of the other turbines in the region.
If given the green light by Carlow County Council, the turbines will be erected at Croaghaun Hill, near Myshall. Such is the level of concern in south Carlow and Bunclody that Minister of State James Browne was invited to a Zoom meeting last week to discuss the matter with concerned residents.
Once the planning application is submitted, and it’s believed that will happen imminently, the public will have five weeks to make a submission on the proposal.
Discussing the plans, Minister Browne said the proposed turbines are almost ‘twice the height of the existing highest turbine in the area’.
‘I’m concerned that many in the Bunclody community are not aware of the size and potential impact of the proposal,’ he said.
‘I’m a strong supporter and advocate for renewable energies, however, I have a real concern about the size of the proposed wind turbines.’
The Minister is concerned that the natural beauty of the Bunclody area will be negatively impacted and he said the area is ‘already carrying a heavy burden of wind turbines’.
‘I don’t believe that appropriate public consultations have taken place,’ he said.
‘No public consultation or advertisement have taken place in Bunclody or anywhere in County Wexford,’ he added.
Minister Browne said that consultation needs to take place before the project can be advanced and said: ‘It is crucial that there is public buy-in for these type of projects and I favour the process being paused until appropriate public consultations have taken place.’
He also said that the current pandemic can’t be used as an excuse not to have public meetings: ‘I appreciate Covid has made public consultations difficult but that is not a justification for proceeding without them.’
‘I think there should be full consultation with the public [when restrictions allow],’ said Minister Browne.
He also suggested that some people are not aware of the size of the proposed turbines and of the visual impact they could have.
His sentiments were shared by the Chairperson of Enniscorthy Municipal District Council and resident in the Bunclody area, Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy.
She expressed frustration that consultations haven’t taken place in an adequate way.
‘There has been no consultation on this in our county at all and yes, we are across the border, but this will have a major impact on Bunclody and the surrounding areas,’ she said.
‘You can see it [the proposed site] from the top of my lane so all the way from Bunclody these will be visible,’ she said.
Cllr Murphy is concerned that while the initial proposal makes provision for seven turbines there is potential to have as many as 14 turbines erected at the site over time.
‘These things are absolutely huge and there is potential to have 14 of them over time and that is a massive problem.’ she said.
While acknowledging that a leaflet drop was done for houses within a 2km range of the site, she said that wasn’t good enough.
‘You have to talk to locals because putting leaflets within 2km of it is not good enough,’ she said.
She was also critical of a meeting that took place in Ardattin because ‘that’s nowhere near where they are going’.
‘There needs to be a public consultation meeting in Myshall, Kildavin and Bunclody,’ she said, highlighting those as the areas that will be affected by the turbines on the County Wexford side.
‘They also don’t appear to be offering any amenities in terms of what they’re putting in,’ said Cllr Murphy.
With regard to the physical aspect of the turbines, she said: ‘Yes, they are generating electricity but in the building of them, the amount of concrete and steel that goes into them, makes them not as green as people might think.’
Cllr Murphy went on to comment: ‘Real, proper evaluation should be done; we should not be pushed into it.’
She said that some people are in favour of turbines and others are not but that people need to be able to make an informed choice.
‘Coillte is a semi-state body so this should not be done without proper consultation,’ said Cllr Murphy.
‘Bunclody already has a number of turbines and this will have a massive impact.’
She praised the natural beauty of the area where the development is going and, in particular, highlighted that it’s an area popular for hill-walking and the turbines will take from the natural beauty of the area.
Cllr Murphy also expressed concern that with offshore windfarms in the pipeline and increased level of land-based windfarms that soon ‘there will be few places without windfarms in view’.
‘These will affect the look of Mount Leinster,’ she added.
Emphasising the importance of tourism to Bunclody she said that if there was some tourism benefit such as development of a cycling trail – such as the one at Ballyhoura – ‘it would be something’. However, she said that, on the evidence of the proposal, there is no indication of potential economic benefit to Bunclody.
The online petition was organised by the Blackstairs and Barrow Valley Network and can be viewed at www.my.uplift.ie under the title ‘Save Mount Leinster from Industrial Development’.
When contacted about the residents’ concerns a spokesperson for Coillte highlighted the measures taken by the organisation as part of the plan to submit the planning application.
She said that on Friday, January 16, this year the Renewable Energy Division of Coillte, submitted a planning application to Carlow County Council for the proposed Croaghaun Wind Farm in East Carlow.
‘The application follows an extensive 20-month community engagement programme in parallel with the design and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, which has actively sought input from those living closest to the proposed wind farm site,’ she said.
‘The aim is to develop a renewable energy project responsibly,’ she added.
In the statement the spokesperson also said the project would be developed ‘in a way that will bring benefit locally, regionally and nationally’.
‘Coillte is uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of Ireland’s economy and to achieving the goals outlined in Ireland’s Climate Action Plan,’ she said.
‘The proposed Croaghaun Wind Farm project forms part of that contribution by helping both the State and County Carlow meet emissions reduction targets and play a role in promoting and sustaining a cleaner, more secure, healthier environment for our children and future generations,’ she added.
In terms of how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the public’s access to the project the spokesperson said that due to the current restrictions in place Coillte has developed an online virtual tour to help provide ‘extensive presentation’ [of the project].
She said the presentation includes photographic representations of the project for members of the public to view.
Members of the public wishing to access the presentation can do so through the project website which is accessible at www.croaghaunwindfarm.ie.
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