An appeals board ruling concerning ESB’s 70 turbine wind farm at Derrybrien in south Galway “casts a major doubt over the legality of the project”, according to a solicitor for locals in the area.
An Bord Pleanála has decided to refuse ‘substitute consent’ to ESB subsidiary, Gort Windfarms Ltd for the wind farm and all works in response to the 2003 peat-slide event at the site.
The ESB firm lodged the ‘substitute consent’ application through a Remedial Environmental Impact Assessment report in June 2020 with An Bord Pleanála in an attempt to regularise the project’s planning status.
In October 2003, the peat slide event during excavation work for the wind farm occurred where 450,000 tonnes of peat were disturbed over an area of 25 hectares and resulted in the mass movement of 250,000 tonnes of material downslope.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) told the appeals board that investigations after the peat slide indicated that around 50,000 fish mortalities occurred in a 18km stretch of river down to Lough Cutra.
The State has already amassed fines for €17 million as a result of an ongoing failure to ensure proper standards were adhered to at the development at Derrybrien.
Now, the appeals board has ruled that it is precluded from granting substitute consent to Gort Windfarms Ltd in the case.
The appeals board made the ruling after concluding that the significant effects on the environment from the project “were clear, profound and unacceptable”.
The board also concluded that the development would have unacceptable direct or indirect effects on the environment.
The board made this ruling after finding that works undertaken by the applicants after the peat event and during the operation of the wind farm did not render acceptable the peat slide significant environmental effects.
The decision by the appeals board dismisses the recommendation of its own inspector to grant the substitute consent. Galway County Council had no object to the grant of substitute consent.
Loughrea solicitor, Dan Sheils, who represents a substantial number of local clients in the long-running saga, said on Tuesday: “It is a very significant decision by An Bord Pleanála and requires due consideration.”
On what the decision means for the wind farm operation, Mr Sheils said: “That is something none of us are entirely certain of at the moment. It certainly casts major doubt on the legality of the project, and we are currently investigating that.”
Mr Sheils described the appeals board as “hard-hitting” and said: “I don’t know how the ESB is going to rectify the situation now and the local view is that until there is a proper public engagement to allow people to have a proper say the wind farm operation should be halted”.
In a statement, the ESB stated that it noted the decision by An Bord Pleanála. “ESB is disappointed with this decision, and it will be studying the details before deciding on the next steps to take.”
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