Majority of councillors opposed to Coole wind farm

(Above) File pic.

The majority of Westmeath's county councillors are against plans to build a wind farm on cutaway bog in the north of the county.

At a special online meeting held yesterday afternoon to get councillors' views on wind energy developer Statkraft Ireland's plans to build fifteen 175m wind turbines in the Coole area, as well as 26km of underground cabling from an on-site substation to the national grid at Irishtown, most of the members who spoke voiced their opposition to the project which has gone straight to An Bord Pleanála for consideration as it has been classified a Strategic Infrastructure Development (SID).

Cllr Ken Glynn reminded his colleagues that at a meeting the previous Monday, they decided not to comply with a draft ministerial direction to delete the policy relating to turbine set back distances in the new Westmeath County Development Plan (2021-27). The Fianna Fail man added that he hoped that his colleagues would “stand behind” the people of north Westmeath who oppose the construction of the wind farm.

Labour councillors Denis Leonard and Johnnie Penrose both voiced their opposition to the project.

Cllr Denis Leonard said that many people living close to the proposed development were opposed to it for a number of reasons, such as fears over noise pollution and shadow flicker.

He also said that it was would be “premature” of ABP to make a decision while the council's policy on set back distance has yet to be finalised following the intervention of central government.

“We are so pro renewable energy in this county. We just want the right ones. When you can generate enough power for four million Irish people from the off shore wind farms that are going to be granted [planning] over the next few years, why in the world would you impose wind on unsuitable locations around the country?...We have to support the residents who oppose this for good reasons,” he said.

Cllr Andrew Duncan also said that he was against the project. He said that according to the county development plan all industrial wind energy projects should be directed to cutaway bog. However, one of the turbines in this proposed development is located on agricultural land. He also said that if given the go ahead the project will reduce house prices in the area.

“As a property valuer I can point to the very simple fact that there will be a certain number of people who will have an issue with turbines being in the proximity [of their home] and when you reduce the number of people who want a product, you reduce the demand and therefore reduce the price,” he said.

Another long time opponent of wind energy development in the county, Cllr Emily Wallace said that she had “reservations” about a number of aspects of the project, including the set back distance of the turbines from residences. She also has concerns about the impact of the 26km of underground cabling as well as the environmental footprint of such a large development on cutaway bog.

“Bord na Móna are blocking drains to rewet bogs, while they are talking about draining bogs,” she said.

Cllr John Shaw said that his “overriding thought” is that getting the views of councillors is just a “box ticking exercise”.

Noting that the council's planning department had already rejected Statkraft's initial application for 13 turbines, a decision that was then overturned by ABP, Cllr Shaw said that he “fears” that the latest application will get the green light. If this does happen, he says that it is vital that “proper safeguarding measures” are put in place for the community.

Cllr Hazel Smyth said that if the development is not “done properly” there will be an “adverse impact on local ecology and biodiversity”.

She said that she would like to see that the local community “benefits from this energy being produced next too them”. The wind farm, if given the go ahead, “will have some form of impact on those living close to them [the turbines]", Cllr Smyth said, and it is important that there is some form of “payback” to the community.

She also expressed concerns about the fact that 1.3 hectares of forestry will have to felled for the project to proceed and hoped that Statkraft had plans to replace what is being removed.

Cllr Frank McDermott, who is one of two north Westmeath based councillors, said that he is “totally in favour of renewable energy in all its forms provided it complies with the law”.

“Secondly I have never in my 53 years [as a councillor] objected against anybody or anything that looked for planning permission and I ain't going to do it now,” he said.

At the start of the meeting, Cllr Paddy Hill excused himself from attending as one of turbines in the proposed development is located on land he owns.

Due to the divergence in views, councillors decided against issuing a resolution on the issue for inclusion in chief executive Pat Gallagher's report that has to be submitted to ABP before June 2. However, their views will be noted in the report.