Wind energy giant eager to get Coole wind farm over the line

It may be one of the biggest wind energy developers in the world, but Statkraft is eager to get its plans to build a wind farm in north Westmeath over the line.

In late 2017, the original planning application by Statkraft Ireland’s subsidiary, Coole Wind Farm Ltd, to erect 13 turbines in Coole was rejected by Westmeath County Council on the grounds that all but two of the turbines would have been too close to houses based on the policy relating to setback distances in the County Development Plan (2014-2020).

Statkraft appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála, which overturned the council’s decision.

Last year, local opposition group the North Westmeath Turbine Action Group (NWTAG), and environmental campaigner Peter Sweetman separately challenged ABP’s decision in the Commercial Court and secured a judicial review and are currently awaiting a decision.

In March of this year, Statkraft applied to ABP for planning permission to erect 15 turbines, 13 of which are in the same locations as the turbines in their initial application, plus another two.

The application also seeks planning permission to lay 26km of underground cabling from the wind farm to the ESB substation at Irishtown.

Statkraft had originally applied for planning permission for the underground cabling to Westmeath County Council in May of last year but withdrew the application in late July.

The current planning application for 15 turbine and underground cabling – which also includes details for the construction of an onsite substation, a burrow pit, "junction accommodation works" and a link road between the R395 and R396, has gone straight to ABP for consideration as it has been classified as an Strategic Infrastructure Development (SID).

A planning application for a wind farm is classified as a SID if the proposed development will have more 25 turbines or a total energy output of more than 50 megawatts (MW). According to Statkraft’s application to ABP, the wind farm in Coole will have a generation capacity of 90MW, compared to the 50MW stated in the original application to Westmeath County Council in 2017. The rotor diameter of the proposed turbines has also increased to 155m from 140m.

In its Environmental Impact Assessment Report, Statkraft says that if the proposed development is given the go-ahead, Westmeath County Council will receive in the region of €540,000 each year in the form of rates payments, while up to 135 jobs will be created during the 12-18 month construction phase of the project.

The report also states that under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme, if the project is granted planning permission by ABP, Statkraft will have to make an annual contribution of €500,000 per year for the operational lifetime of the wind farm, which would include a minimum annual payment of €1,000 per annum to the 18 households located within 1km of the development; €200,000 per year for the development of energy initiatives to benefit local people; and more than €200,000 for local groups, clubs and not for profit organisations in the area.

On the impact that the development would have on property values, the report says that while there have been no "empirical studies" carried out in Ireland on the impacts of wind farms on property prices, international studies have shown that "wind farms have not impacted property values in the local areas".

On the issue of shadow flicker, Statkraft states in the report that it is "committing to zero shadow flicker at occupied residential receptors within 10 rotor diameters of the proposed development".

In "worst case conditions", the report says that 33 properties may exceed the Department of Environment guideline threshold of 30 minutes per day – five of which are derelict and four are "participating properties".

If shadow flicker exceedences are recorded at buildings, Statkraft says that a number of "screening measures" will be proposed to the property owner including "the installation of window blinds or curtains in affected rooms, planting of screening vegetation or other site-specific measures agreeable to the affected party".

The decision due date for the application is September 17.