Kerry County Council’s recent objection to a 12-turbine windfarm outside Ballylongford could well be taken as a welcome, if late, acknowledgement by the Authority of the concerns of so many ordinary rural people who have found their peaceful home areas suddenly dominated by massive blades on the skyline in recent years.
Ballylongford in North Kerry, where EMPower Energy subsidiary Shronowen Wind Farm Ltd proposes to site the 150m-high structures in a plan currently before An Bord Pleanála, is a case in point in a village already ringed by well over 20 turbines.
Kerry County Council reflected the concern of many there in indicating it intends to make a submission objecting to the Shronowen plan – on the basis the turbines would 'tower' over homes and farms; create an 'unacceptable' level of shadow-flicker in 25 properties; and have a generally adverse impact on the quality of life in what it described as a 'tranquil rural area'.
The Council noted in its report that the windfarm would severely impact views along the Wild Atlantic Way, damaging local tourism, and cited fears regarding the impact on the integrity of local roads; as well as fears the plan would put the water-quality of the area at risk and pose a danger to species and habitats in neighbouring Natura sites.
The Council's hard-hitting objection, set out a meeting last month ahead of its submission to An Bord, drew criticism from the directors of EMPower.It was the Council's own designation of the Ballylongford area as 'open to consideration' that played a key part in the site selection by the firm, director Diarmuid Twomey explained in a letter:
“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 wrote.
It's a case of the chickens coming home to roost if ever there was one, as far as one researcher is concerned.
Listowel-based chartered accountant John O'Sullivan – who sits on the Economic Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) of Kerry County Council – has long highlighted the extent to which North Kerry has been asked to disproportionately shoulder the burden of the State's wind requirements.
Kerry alone produces up to 20 per cent of the wind-generated electricity of the State; generating 10 times (900MW) more electricity than the county itself requires (90MW).And of that, 12.5 per cent of the State's wind-generated power is coming out of North Kerry.
The State's need for a massive wind sector to offset carbon emissions has been facilitated here by the Council's zoning of vast tracts -particularly in North Kerry – of areas 'open to consideration' and 'strategic site search'.
“This is out of the control of Kerry County Council now. They brought in the zoning, and the windfarm applications are now being classed as Strategic Infrastructure Development increasingly coming in at more than 50MW, meaning they go straight to An Bord Pleanála," Mr O'Sullivan said. "So Kerry County Council is now being bypassed. They brought in the zoning and, in my view, effectively handed the county on a plate to wind-farm developers."
He said he found himself in the unusual position of agreeing with a wind developer in so far as EMPower director Diarmuid Twomey cited the zoning as a key factor in the plan.
That 'Open to consideration' zoning was brought in in 2012, at a time when the Stacks Mountains SPA (see maps) was already subject to 225 permitted turbines. It came in amid a Renewable Energy Strategy (RES) stating, in respect of the 225 turbines in the Stacks SPA, that the 'impact on the heritage of this area is unknown'.
"Mr O'Sullivan said this was the 'most important' sentence in the document, essentially ending the wind zoning of the Stacks Mountains. while highlighting that 375 turbines had been permitted in the county at that time.
Massive tracts elsewhere in North Kerry were duly zoned suitable for wind energy.
The 'strategic site search' zoning was introduced over an area from south of Tarbert to Brosna (in red on the map above, right), and the 'open' zoning (in blue) over a massive swathe of territory north and west of Listowel.
The strategic area was defined as being 'eminently suitable' for wind power; and defined as strategic because the power lines and infrastructure were already in place to facilitate grid connection with relative ease.
These zonings were made possible by the controversial Landscape Character Assessment, finding the majority of the landscapes of North Kerry as 'not important for scenery, tourism or recreation'.
There is no longer any limit on the number of wind turbines that can be erected in the county; with the rule adopted by councillors requiring 80 per cent of all wind farms permitted in the 'open to consideration' zoning to be completed before further plans could be considered now obsolete.
Eighty per cent of the 375 turbines permitted by 2012 have been built and, in any event, the rule did not apply to the strategic site zone.
"Eighty per cent in the Open to Consideration area has been done, and it didn't say anything about any restrictions in the Strategic Site Search zone," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"There is no limit on the number of turbines that can be put in for, the RES quote simply says 'plan led rather than target driven'. That means…there is no ceiling on the number of turbines that can be permitted.
"In the context of the Government's Climate Action Plan it essentially means open season for wind developers on North Kerry.
"The Government's target is to be climate neutral by 2050. It seems they can do nothing to reduce emissions from farming; the plan on reducing emissions in heating is failing miserably; and heavy transport is another, so what they are planning on doing is reducing carbon emissions in electricity generation down to zero to compensate for failing in the other areas.
"The Government has meanwhile decided that we are to become an electricity-exporting nation, and that by exporting it we can earn 'minus' carbon credits, which can then be used to offset the carbon still being emitted in other sectors," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"They have a massive target of wind energy for export. But it's not that easy, they are going to ruin the landscape and find they have to put in massive money into interconnectors all the way to the continent as there are limits on the power that can be exported to Britain via the existing infrastructure.
"The zoning urgently needs to be withdrawn, he argued.
"The planning zoning for wind farms introduced by KCC in 2012 as a variation to the county development plan, which was also approved by four government departments and was adopted again by councillors into the 2015 county development plan, incredibly, is being dismissed and disregarded by Council as the facilitating document for allowing more and more wind farms into north and east Kerry. Not only is this zoning guiding developers, it is also being quoted by the Bord as a reason for approving wind farms.
"Instead of doing the right thing and withdrawing the zoning as the elephant in the room, KCC management are resorting to making submissions to ABP to object to wind farms in the very same area zoned by council as being suitable.
""It will be a test of council whether they follow up their letter of objection by taking a case to the High Court if and when ABP approves the most recent application," Mr O'Sullivan added.”
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