Although a large number of local residents and the majority of county councillors may be opposed to plans to build a wind farm in the Coole area, the project “is in accordance with the sustainable development of the area” and will not “seriously injure the residential or visual amenities of the area”.
That’s according to Westmeath County Council chief executive Pat Gallagher, who as part of the planning process for the multi-million euro SID project has to submit a report to An Bord Pleanála. At Monday’s special online meeting to get councillors’ views on the proposed development, which will be included in the final report, chief planner Cathaldus Hartin said that following an assessment of the information submitted, including an Environmental Impact Assessment, the “conclusion of the [chief executive’s] report” is that subject to conditions the project is in accordance with European energy policy and ministerial guidelines and in line with policy of the Westmeath County Development Plan (2021-27), “having regard to the draft ministerial direction”.
The chief executive’s report also stated that project will “make a positive contribution to Ireland’s national strategic policy on renewable energy” and is “acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience”.
Perhaps most controversially for the residents of north Westmeath who are opposed to it, the report says that the development will have “an acceptable impact on the landscape”, “not seriously injure the residential or visual amenities of the area” and “not adversely affect the archaeological or natural heritage” of the area.
Director of service Barry Kehoe informed councillors that their policy relating to the setback distance of turbines from the nearest home – 10 times the height of the tip of the turbine – did not inform the executive’s decision-making process as it is the subject of a draft ministerial directive and the process has not concluded.
What does apply, Mr Kehoe said, were the national guidelines which include a setback distance of 700m.
“All the other wind energy and energy policies in the plan do apply, including that the turbines would be strictly directed to cutaway bogs,” he said.
Mr Kehoe also stated that report refers to the fact that one of the proposed turbines is located on agricultural land. The chief executive has to submit his report before June 2.