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A last ditch attempt to save the ill-fated Derrybrien wind farm was launched in the Seanad on Thursday as a new bill was tabled which could prevent the multi-million euro facility from having to be dismantled.
A group of Senators, led by former Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, guided the Special Measures in the Public Interest Derrybrien Wind Farm Bill through its first stage in the Seanad.
The Senators are hoping the bill, which seeks to transfer ownership of the windfarm from the ESB to the Western Development Commission, will bypass both a 2008 ruling from the European Court of Justice and a decision made in March 2022 by an Bord Pleanála, not to grant ‘substitute consent’ or retroactive planning permission for the windfarm.
The south Galway facility, which has 70 turbines and was the largest windfarm in the country when constructed, can provide enough electricity to supply 30,000 homes when fully operational.
It came to national attention in 2003 when a massive peat-slide took place in the area resulting in large scale pollution, including the killing of some 50,000 fish.
It was later determined by the European Court of Justice that the facility was constructed without an adequate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which resulted in the European Commission levying a €5million fine on the Irish state, plus daily fines of €15,000, for each day it continued to operate.
The windfarm continued to produce electricity until the spring of 2022, when an Bord Pleanála turned down an application for substitute consent. At that point, it is understood that the total fines for the facility were in excess of €20million.
The facility was originally built by Gort Windfarms, a subsidiary of the ESB. A key element of the EU judgements against the windfarm is that no organisation should profit from a development which was constructed without proper environmental assessments.
The proposed new bill seeks to transfer ownership of the facility from the ESB to the Western Development Commission, who would then operate the windfarm.
According to Senator McDowell, the ESB are currently waiting for Galway County Council to issue them with an enforcement notice to decommission the facility, as this would avoid a requirement for the ESB to seek planning permission to undertake the significant work required to fully dismantle the wind turbines.
Concerns have been raised previously that decommissioning the windfarm, which would require removing massive amounts of concrete from the sensitive bogland, could trigger a second devastating peat slide.
“The ESB are expecting an enforcement notice from Galway County Council, when they get that, they will then start the work of removing the structures. This saves them the trouble of seeking planning permission to undertake the work of removing the wind turbines.
It is a really scandalous standoff. These works will cause untold more environmental damage to this area,” said Senator McDowell yesterday.
“An Bord Pleanála’s decision not to give the windfarm retrospective planning permission was very stupid to be honest with you. It was a very strange decision not to give substitute consent. The whole thing doesn’t make sense.
“What the EU is very strong on, is that, if you or I do something with either an inadequate EIA or no EIA at all, we can’t be allowed to profit from our own breaches of the law. Here we have a grotesque situation where something that is badly needed, something that is doing no further damage to the environment, is to be removed.”
Mr McDowell believes that if his bill receives adequate support, it could be enacted in the first quarter of next year. Time is of critical concern for the wind turbines, as they will degrade and cease to function if they remain out of operation for any significant period
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