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Lobbyist for east Clare windfarm denies objecting to one in west

A lobbyist promoting a controversial wind farm in East Clare has refuted a claim from a local group that he objected to a similar proposed renewable energy project in West Clare last year.

The Fahybeg Windfarm Information Group (FWIG) has claimed that RWE Renewables Ireland representative Kieran O’Byrne’s name appeared on an official objection from Birdwatch Ireland against the proposed construction of eight wind turbines with a maximum overground to blade height of up to 574 feet on land about 6.5 kilometres east of Miltown Malbay.

The group is also concerned that Mr O’Byrne was public relations officer for the Scientology “cult”, and has claimed that very little money will be allowed to be invested in certain sporting and community facilities under current draft government guidelines.

The planning application by Slieveacurry Renewable Energy Development was subsequently withdrawn by the developers.

A planning application for the development of eight 180 metre wind turbines in South-East Clare is expected to be lodged to Clare County Council next February.

RWE Renewables has unveiled plans for the development of the wind turbines at Fahy Beg, Fahy More North, Ballymoloney and Ballyknavin in Bridgetown.

In an interview with The Clare Champion Mr O’Byrne confirmed he was chairman of Birdwatch Ireland from 2011 to 2015, and noted his four-year term ended in 2015.

As a zoologist, he explained he was very keen to get involved in the renewable energy sector such as solar and wind farms.

“I didn’t sign the objection to the Slieveacurry development. Old Birdwatch Ireland headed paper was used to send in this objection. I am a member of Birdwatch Ireland, but I took no part in that objection.”

“I have completed public relations for IBM, HP and a lot of companies, but that doesn’t mean I share their views.”

Sean Conway of FWIG said he was delighted about the objection to the Slievecurry wind farm because “wind farms are a danger to bird life”.

He expressed concern that residents have been misinformed about what local projects may benefit from funding, if the wind farm is approved for planning by the authorities.

“People have been told funds will be provided for the roof of the church in Bridgetown, which is badly needed. It has been said to me by locals. I would be delighted to see a new roof on the church, but that is ineligible under the Government guidelines concerning Renewable Energy Scheme (RES) 1.

Mr Conway said the developers are promising a community fund of between €168,000 to 288,000, if the wind blows, but that is not always the case as illustrated by a wind farm in Tipperary.

“The wind energy industry is moving fast and off shore is now the proven best solution, it is a pity to destroy the landscape of East Clare to supply less than 20% of the power that will be needed for the proposed Data Centre in Ennis, at 28 to 48MW it will, be approximately 2% of the output of the proposed Windfarm in Moneypoint. I hope we do not live to regret it.

“People think the locals will decide where money is spent, but local villages can benefit up to 20 kilometres away.

“The local community could encompass villages as far away as Patrickswell, Rear Cross, Mountshannon, Dromineer, Shannon, Ballyneety, Cratloe, Sixmilebridge, Tulla, Portroe, Cappamore and everything in between.

“The RESS Communities Steering Board will have the final say on all decisions regarding the Community Benefit Fund, not the locals.”

He estimated 45 homes living within one kilometre of the wind farm will received compensation equating to €9.90 per week after tax, while those living between one and two kilometres away will €4.96 per week.

After tax calculations are based on single pre tax income of €35,300 or couple with combined pre tax income of €44,300.

He pointed out 40% of the funds shall be paid to not-for-profit community enterprises whose primary focus or aim is the promotion of initiatives towards the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including education, energy efficiency, sustainable energy and climate action initiatives.

“This heading is very specific and does not include GAA/Football clubs or similar groups under the four headings.”

“We would question the motivation of certain local individuals who seem to be campaigning hard for this Community Benefit Fund with seemingly no attachment to this project who would appear to be eyeing up this portion of the fund for personal projects/gain.”

Commenting on the group’s concerns, Mr O’Byrne stressed RWE would adhere to the government guidelines before stressing there has to be a benefit for the community.

Under these guidelines, any community fund committee has to include an independent professional administrator, community representatives and a developer representative to ensure that any proposed projects adhere to strict guidelines.

He pointed out Sustainable Energy Ireland provide an overseeing role for the administration of these committees.

In terms of grants to promote UN Sustainable Development Goals, he outlined a GAA club could seek funding for solar panels, while a school could apply for money to implement a new training programme.

He said the government are planning to make provision for a new community investment fund for wind farms as part of new RES 2 guidelines, which are due to be published next month.

Asked about the definition of local community, he said there is a need for these guidelines to be set down much clearer.