Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told the ESB to either “go to court or demolish” the controversial Derrybrien Wind Farm in South Galway – where more than €13 million in fines have already been clocked up against the State.
The Tánaiste said the saga in the Sliabh Aughty mountains had gone on too long and the ESB now needs to resolve the issue quickly.
A massive landslide occurred during construction of the 70-turbine farm in 2003, pushing thousands of cubic metres of peat down the mountain.
In 2019, the EU’s Court of Justice found Ireland was in breach of environmental safeguards in relation to the construction of the wind farm by a subsidiary company of the ESB.
A €5m fine was imposed by the EU in 2020, as well as daily fines of €15,000 since – the total has now reached more than €13m.
The matter was raised in the Dáil again last week by Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon, who sought clarification on whether the State would be paying the fine on behalf of the ESB.
“In 2003 there was a massive landslide associated with that development. There have been ongoing and significant environmental transgressions ever since, to the extent that since 2019 the European Commission has been fining Ireland €15,000 per day for those transgressions.
“We have paid a cumulative fine of €13.2 million. Recently, An Bord Pleanála refused what is essentially retrospective consent for this development.
“Do we intend to continue paying this fine of €15,000 per day on behalf of the ESB? Bearing in mind that An Bord Pleanála has refused consent, is this now an unauthorised development?”
Mr Varadkar said the ESB needs to make a decision on the future of Derrybrien.
“This is a long-running saga and has been going on for far too long. I am a big fan of the ESB as a company but it has not covered itself in glory when it comes to this issue.
“A decision has to be made by ESB. It has to take a case to the court or demolish and remove the wind farm. It is one or the other. It is a decision for that company, but it has to resolve this quickly,” the Tánaiste told the Dáil.
Deputy Cannon later said: “We cannot continue to pay a fine of €15,000 per day, we cannot continue to see damage being done to the local environment, in particular the major water runoff that occurs every time we have a few days of rain.
“It’s safe to say at this point that the development of this wind farm has exacerbated the flooding problems that have plagued South Galway for decades. The ESB is a very reputable semi-state body doing great work in developing renewable energy at home and abroad, but in this instance they have failed to act professionally. They need to learn from their mistakes.”
Following the EU ruling in 2019, Galway County Council had told the ESB to seek Substitute Consent from An Bord Pleanála.
Last month, An Bord Pleanála refused to grant ‘Substitute Consent’ (effectively a process to retrospectively secure planning permission and regularise planning relating to environmental impact issues) for the wind farm.
The Board ruled that remedial works carried out since the landslide did not “fully mitigate the significant environmental effects” that occurred. It said the extent of the damage was “clear, profound and unacceptable” and cannot be fully mitigated, and refused the ESB’s application.
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