Meenbog: Concerns brought by locals to wind farm developer over site ‘were ignored’

Independent TD for Donegal Thomas Pringle said local communities “cannot count on government to support their interests over developers” as he spoke about the peat slippage at the Meenbog wind farm site.

The deputy has called for it to be a requirement of developers to pay for independent environmental assessments as part of the planning process.

Raising the matter in the Dáil on Thursday evening (November 19), deputy Pringle said the Meenbog landslide is the “culmination of a long planning history of this site where the development, I feel, has been pushed on against the wishes of the community”.

He said that during the planning phase of the Meenbog wind farm, the local community “were able to tell the developer that the ground conditions would make the site liable to slippage”.

“They were ignored,” the deputy said.

He added that in the recent bog slide, thousands of tonnes of peat slid into the river, “which will make its way to the Derg River and has probably killed thousands of salmon, ultimately compromising the Mourne and the Foyle river systems”.

He added that issues have also been raised in other locations, including Derrybrien in Co. Galway and Drumkerrin in Co. Leitrim.

‘He who plays piper calls the tune’

“How many other sites will this apply to?” the deputy questioned.

“Local communities cannot rely on government to support them and their interests over the interests of developers.

“Even if planning permission promises to do x, y, and z to protect the environment, there is no effective control to ensure they actually do.

When they get planning permission that’s the end of the process and nobody looks at it from that point on. And that, I believe, is wrong.

Deputy Pringle repeated his call to require developers to pay for independent environmental assessments as part of the planning process. Currently, developers commission their own assessments for their applications.

“He who pays the piper calls the tune. The developer gets all the surveys done for this – he pays for them to be done.

“The simple thing we could do is we could say that the developer pays the council to do it, and the council could do the environmental studies, and then we might actually see real change in this process,” he said.

‘Surely these areas are not right for such developments’

Sinn Féin TD Johnny Guirke said in the Delvin, Raharney and Ballivor areas of his constituency of Meath West, the process of applying for planning permission to erect over 35 wind turbines ranging in height from 180m to 200m is underway.

Some of the tallest in Europe, with a setback distance from many homes of only four times the height of the turbine and little regard for noise, flicker, the value of people’s homes or the environmental effect.

“Located beside one of the proposed wind farms is one of Ireland’s leading bloodstock farms. We talk about climate change and climate action, but what happened in Donegal and Galway did more in terms of damaging the climate than those wind farms could ever do to help it.

“If turbines need to be 180m to 200m tall – which is twice the height of the Spire in Dublin – to get the requisite wind speeds because of the low-lying nature of the lands in question, surely these areas are not right for such developments,” deputy Guirke said.

The planning permission process

Responding to this, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan said that “at this early stage, the precise cause of the peat slide is yet to be determined, be it the construction works on the wind farm, weather impacts, other factors or a combination of various elements”.

“Investigations into the cause are ongoing, but the immediate focus of the agencies has been to ensure the putting in place of hardcore berms to prevent further peat slippage, stabilise the peat slippage in the form of dewatering to maintain the peat onsite, and minimise impacts on local watercourses,” the minister said.

“Once these measures are in place, the agencies will endeavour to determine the precise cause of the peat slide and then deal with breaches, if any, of planning and environmental requirements.

The wind farm development in question was granted permission through the strategic infrastructure development process operated by An Bord Pleanála. Under planning legislation, the decision on whether to grant permission for a strategic infrastructure development, with or without conditions, is a matter for An Bord Pleanála.

“In making decisions on strategic infrastructure development applications, the board is required to have regard to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, the provisions of the development plan, any submission or observation received and relevant ministerial or government policies, including guidelines issued by my department.

“The consideration of such applications also involves consideration of the requirements of the EU environmental impact assessment directive and the habitats directive.

“There is a mandatory requirement to undertake an environmental impact assessment in respect of wind farm development projects of a certain scale, that is, if they consist of five or more turbines or have a power output greater than 5 MW [megawatts].

This ensures that all environmental impacts, including potential hydrological impacts of a proposed development are fully considered and assessed prior to the making of determinations on individual planning applications.

“A detailed environmental impact assessment, incorporating a peat and soil management plan and an assessment of the potential for a peat slide, was submitted as part of the planning application for the Meenbog wind farm to the board.”