Ardee Municipal District councillor Tom Cunningham has hit out at the government’s rejection of Sinn Fein’s Wind Turbine Regulation bill, accusing opposition parties of ‘failing to deliver’ for rural communities affected by the issue of wind farm plans.
On Thursday last, the bill was voted down in the Dail with 40 votes in favour and 83 against. The prospect of wind firms is a hot one locally, as several areas around Ardee have been identified as a location for major wind turbine development. Last year, renewable energy company Gaelectric announced their plans for a new five-turbine Corracon wind farm at at Drakestown, just south of Hunterstown.
While plans appear to have stalled in recent months, it is understood Gaelectric are reassessing their options in regards to Corracon. Late in 2016, one of the landowners involved withdrew from the project. There has been sizeable local opposition to the plans.
“This is the right idea, but in the wrong location,” Peter Carolan, chair of the Ardee Community Wind Action Group, said at a meeting last year. “Drakestown is one of the highest points in the county, so these turbines will be clearly visible as far away as Dundalk. This wind farm would define our landscape and our community.
“This is a long road and a hard fight and as a community, I think we’ll be up for it.” Concerns were also raised about health and infrastructure with one of the group’s biggest concerns is how close some houses will be to the turbines and the impact that noise and shadow flicker will have on those homes. This is one of the issues Cunningham feels would have been addressed by Sinn Fein’s bill, as introduced by Brian Stanley TD.
In a statement on the matter, Cunningham said, “Wind farms have been a bone of contention in communities for some years now and this Bill sought to have addressed the issue. It would have regulated wind farms and ensured that while this industry developed it would do so with community engagement and provide legal protection for the rural communities.”
“This has been an area that has been neglected by the last two Governments simply because it is a contentious issue and because of this lack of legislation in terms of planning regulations for wind turbines, many rural communities have suffered greatly.
“These wind farms and turbines continue to get planning permission in locations that are obviously too close to people’s homes. Our Bill would have required a setback distance of 10 times the height of the turbine,” the Clogherhead-based councillor said. “The Bill also had guidelines for noise and shadow flicker as well as optional community ownership. It also provided for greater consultation with communities and for the turbines to be sited in areas designated by County Councillors in the county development plan.”
Plans to increase the setback distance proposed in that bill would have seen turbines be built no closer than approximately 1,200m from a home dwelling. The current setback distance as allowed under national guidelines is 500m and over.
“Rural Ireland has been abandoned by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael who have refused rural dwellers any legal protections around this issue. It is disingenuous for either of these parties to cite the upcoming ‘Wind Turbine Guidelines’ which we have been waiting for 5 years for as the Minister for Environment just this week said they would not be legally binding anyway.
“Rural Ireland needs legal protection as we look for alternative diverse forms of energy and Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have failed to grasp this opportunity and they have failed to deliver,” he added.
Gaelectic currently has six operational wind farms in the Republic of Ireland with a further three currently at the construction phase. The proposed development at Drakestown – as well as another two more proposed build at Crowinstown in Co. Westmeath and Killala in Co. Mayo – would take that number to 12.