The company behind a controversial wind farm project in north Kerry, that is opposed by Kerry County Council (KCC), have defended the plan and hit out at claims they had used the Covid pandemic as an excuse not to engage with the local community.
The firm, EMPower, have also accused councillors of issuing ‘public pronouncements’ that go against their own parties position on green energy.
In January Shronowen Wind Farm Limited – a subsidiary of Dublin-based EMPower energy – applied directly to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) for permission to build a 12-turbine windfarm on Shronowen bog just south of the Ballylongford.
KCC strongly opposes the plan and, at it’s March Monthly meeting, management brought the detailed submission they intend to make to An Bord Pleanála before councillors for their approval.
In the submission – which was unanimously supported by councillors – the Council set out numerous major problems with plans for the windfarm, which, if allowed would see a dozen 150-metre-tall turbines erected in a low-lying area, within just five kilometres of 1,458 homes.
According council submission, the windfarm would “tower” over homes and farms in the area; create an unacceptable shadow flicker in 25 properties; and have a generally adverse impact on the quality of life “in a tranquil rural area”.
The Council said the windfarm would also severely impact views on the Wild Atlantic Way route and damage local tourism.There are also fears that it would damage the local road network; put the area’s water quality at risk and pose a danger to species and habitats in neighbouring Natura sites.
At the meeting several councillors severely criticised the firm and the proposal including Fine Gael’s Aoife Thornton who questioned how the “absolutely enormous” project had been allowed proceed during the COVID lockdown and accused its backer of a deliberate effort to disenfranchise the local community.
“So many things have been stopped during this lock-down. Why is it that projects like this are able to proceed?” she said.
“In fact COVID was used as an excuse not to engage with the community,” she said.
“They held their meetings using ‘webinars’ in an area known for poor broadband. That disenfranchised many people,” Cllr Thornton told the meeting.
In a strongly worded statement issued to The Kerryman EMPower Director Diarmuid Twomey defended his firm’s plans for north Kerry and claimed that Kerry County Council has adopted an unwritten ‘no more wind’ policy
“The Shronowen site was chosen largely due to its ‘open to consideration’ designation by KCC, which has not been altered by KCC management or elected councillors since 2012. Additionally, the 80 per cent rule installed in the KCC County Development Plan, whereby no new planning could be granted until 80 per cent of existing windfarm projects with permission are built, contradicts national policy on planning and climate change,” he said
“Furthermore, this 80 per cent has already been achieved through recent construction and was communicated to KCC in 2019 who did not disagree. The recent granting of (permission for a windfram at) Ballylongford also highlights that ABP acknowledges that this rule has no statutory basis and is a contravention of national planning policy.”
Mr Twomeny also said that the decision to apply directly to ABP for permission had been suggested to EMPower by the Council.
“The application was submitted to both Kerry and ABP for a determination on the appropriate route for consenting. KCC suggested it was a Strategic Infrastructure Development application and ABP agreed,” he said.
The EMPower Director also hit out at councillors’ criticism and defended the public consultation process on the Shronowen project.
“The councillor’s comments around disenfranchising locals are misleading and regrettable. EMPower engaged extensively with the local community in person pre-Covid lockdowns and then online via webinars, consultation websites, phone calls, leaflets and letter drop’s during the government mandated lockdowns,” he said.
“Indeed, it was the coalition government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that gave express permission for wind farms to continue development during Covid by allowing for exemptions for travel for consultants and staff under the scientific studies exemption and the utility infrastructure exemption,” said Mr Twomey.
In his final comments Mr Twomey claimed that the Council submission shows that KCC have adopted an unofficial policy to block any further windfarm projects in the county.
“This submission to ABP clarifies the KCC unwritten policy of no more wind in the county, and further highlights the rift between local councillor’s ‘public pronouncements’ and their national party policies on Climate change”.
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