William Falkner, Cllr Emily Wallace, Jonathan Ennis, John Delamere, Tom Wallace, Sonia McDonnell and Cllr Aoife Davitt.

Milltownpass area communities resist proposal for windfarm

More than 60 people attended a public meeting in Mullingar on Monday night of last week regarding the proposed development of a wind farm with seven of the largest wind turbines in Europe, near Milltownpass. The meeting was organised by residents of Milltownpass, Coralstown and Gaybrook, who urged other areas to join in the campaign to ensure no turbines are erected in the county as it is feared that even one would open the floodgates for many more.

This proposal would affect the Milltownpass, Kinnegad, Coralstown, Enniscoffey and Gaybrook areas, but it was suggested that similar developments may be planned for Ballinea, Loughnavalley, Killucan, Delvin, Raharney, The Downs and Crookedwood.

Fears were expressed that Statkraft, the largest renewable energy generators in Europe and the company behind this plan, may apply directly to An Bord Pleanála for planning permission for a Strategic Infrastructure Development.

Members of the audience voiced their concerns, and only one man, from Gaybrook, said that the wind farm could be a good thing. He had visited the Mount Lucas wind farm in Offaly and found nothing unfavourable about it.

“Don’t let them in,” urged Jonathan Ennis, Coralstown, who lives 900m from the proposed development. He claimed that the Cootehill area in Cavan went from having no turbines to having 65 in five years.

“Stamp it out!” declared Tom Wallace, who successfully campaigned against a similar development in Gaybrook 10 years ago. He suggested that the bigger plan was to link wind farms around the county to the SSE Airtricity plant at Rhode in Offaly.

John Delamere of Milltownpass Tidy Towns said all the work that has gone into developing a public amenity and wildlife sanctuary on Milltownpass bog will be for nothing if this “totally inappropriate” development goes ahead.

In attendance were Robert Troy, TD, Minister of State, Deputy Sorcha Clarke and Councillors Emily Wallace and Aoife Davitt. There were apologies from several public representatives including Peter Burke, TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government and Planning.

Since the meeting, a committee has been formed as follows: Jonathan Ennis, chairperson; Sonia McDonald and Geraldine McDermott, joint secretaries; John Delamere, treasurer; Emily Wallace, public relations officer; Tom Wallace, Jim Fox, Joe Gorman and Andy Royle.

They will orchestrate a campaign and enlisting the help of a planning expert to advise them on how to submit their objections if and when planning permission is sought. The application is expected to be submitted in mid-summer.

Jonathan Ennis showed slides and videos highlighting the potential impact of the proposed wind farm development on communities living in Milltownpass, Enniscoffey, Coralstown, Gaybrook and Kinnegad. He said the development would affect future generations, devalue homes and disrupt the lives of people living in them.

He claimed that wind farm developers could force landowners to sell through compulsory purchase order. He said the development would be the largest wind farm in the country and one of the largest in the world, onshore and off. He said the turbines would be completely different to the 50m ones you see on the side of hills in the west of Ireland. They would be nearly four times the height, to catch the wind.

Mr Ennis warned of land sterilisation and claimed that the operators would be able to object to new houses and other developments in the area.

He argued that the local roads did not have the capacity to cope with the construction traffic involved in putting up turbines that have 86m blades. “I don’t know how they will get them down our roads, they can’t get them down the motorways,” he said. He said thousands of lorry loads of gravel and concrete will have to be brought in per turbine and warned of the road closures, restricted access and diversions that would result.

Tom Wallace said that a decade ago, he met with “a few guys” from the company looking to do the development and told them they weren’t wanted. He met with the local landowner and told him it wasn’t wanted, and the “whole thing was buried”.

Mr Wallace claimed that the same company is behind the current proposal, branded under a new name, but with the same office and the same directors. He suggested that they may have picked this area because of the work that had already been done for the previous application.

He fears that the bigger plan is to link a horseshoe of wind farms around the county to the SSE Airtricity plant at Rhode in Offaly. Derrygreenagh, Rochfortbridge and Milltownpass are nearby, The Downs, Killucan and Raharney are fighting against wind farms, but we fear the whole area will be enclosed to provide electricity back to Rhode, he said.

Offaly County Council has been liberal in granting planning for wind farms, Westmeath has none, he remarked. Statkraft, the company proposing this development, are the largest renewable energy company in the world and they are putting in an application for just seven turbines – which doesn’t make sense; it is just their attempt to get a foothold and they must be stopped, he declared.

He remarked that in the last 10 to 12 years, different wind farm companies have been signing up landowners in the Kinnegad, Gaybrook, Downs, Knockaville areas and those land options may still be active.

John Delamere of Milltownpass Tidy Towns outlined the huge effort that is going into restoring the bog and developing it into a public amenity and wildlife sanctuary. All their plans will come to a “shuddering” end if this “totally inappropriate” development goes ahead, he claimed.

He said the Tidy Towns in association with the National Parks and Wildlife Service were developing Pass-of-Kilbride bog as a public amenity and a hub of sustainability, biodiversity, wildlife and habitat protection. It is one of the few raised bogs left in Europe. Already, a 2km walk has been developed, literally across the fence from where the wind farm is being proposed. The plan is to develop a loop walk back into the village featuring a turf cutters walk, benches and bat boxes. This year, they have been granted funding to explore the habitats of the area. They hope to rewet the bog, restore habitats and protect wildlife, he claimed.

This could be an amenity to be enjoyed by all for years to come, but if this development went ahead all those plans would come to a shuddering end, Mr Delamere warned.

“It is the wrong project in the wrong place,” he argued. He recalled how plans for a landfill site there were turned down in 2004 because of its proximity to the bog, a national heritage area. “It was wrong then and it is wrong now!”

Mr Delamere urged those present to spread the word, to sign up to their mailing list, attend meetings and help the cause. He said they would need to hire a planning expert to help them formulate their objections and they would need not only moral, but financial support.

Several members of the public expressed their concerns, only one suggesting that the development could be good for the area.

Louise McCartan of Gaybrook Lodge Stud, a member of the audience, said that people in Lynn were worried that pylons would be erected in their area and suggested that they could be called on to row in behind the campaign.

Geraldine McDermott from Clonfad, Milltownpass, another member of the audience, said local people had opposed the solar farm in their area, but the county council was determined. She said they put up all the arguments against it – roads subsiding, water tables – but they could not stop it. She felt that there was “a massive plan in place”.

Mr Ennis agreed that there was a “bigger plan” and suggested “we are just being drip fed”.

In reply to Sonia McDonald from Milltownpass, who was worried about the size of the development, Mr Wallace warned that the developers may increase the number of turbines proposed and thereby, bypass Westmeath County Council and apply directly to An Bord Pleanála for planning permission for a Strategic Infrastructure Development.

Cllr Emily Wallace said that the company could look for planning permission for a minimum amount of turbines and within three months look for more and higher ones. They are looking to get a foothold, she agreed. “One turbine in that location is too much,” she said.

There are 700 people living in this area. They are selling it as the Milltownpass Wind Farm, which gives the impression it’s in the bog, but it isn’t, she stressed.

One man in the audience was concerned about how long the contract farmers had signed with wind farm companies would hold. Mr Ennis said they could be 12-year contracts or longer.

Mr Wallace confirmed that the company could have a hold on people who signed up, but added that some of the landowners do not live locally and may not be concerned.

David Jones from Delvin said there were rumours of six turbines going up in Crookedwood. He appealed to communities to unite and share opinions and ideas and get the likes of Jack O’Sullivan, environmental consultant, involved.

He warned that the impact would be far reaching, with splashes from lorries going to the site dirtying hedges and homes all along the route. He was also concerned about what would happen when the turbines had to be removed, and how such huge turbine blades would be recycled.

A member of the audience who lives in Gaybrook said he visited the Mount Lucas wind farm and found it “quite a nice amenity with a 10km walk through it”. He found the noise levels were “okay” and he was not put off the idea. There may be some positive things about it, he suggested. “I am not in favour, but we have to be energy conscious,” he stressed. He also questioned the claim that houses would be devalued by such a development.

Mr Ennis also visited Mount Lucas and was “shocked” by it.

Deputy Sorcha Clarke of Sinn Féin called for updated guidelines governing wind farm. She said communities across the midlands were being abandoned because the new guidelines were still at the draft stage.

People aren’t opposed to renewable energy, but they don’t want their homes devalued and their communities destroyed, she said. She claimed that the developers were “p…ing off” locals when they should be getting them on side.

Mr Wallace remarked that three successive ministers had directed Westmeath County Council that their wind farm policy was not in line with national policy. At the moment it is sitting with a minister and he has been told “to bugger off,” he remarked.

Cllr Aoife Davitt acknowledged the amount of work done by communities in gathering information. She said that Minister Troy had had to leave to attend another meeting, but was “absolutely committed to working with and supporting you”. She said that Westmeath was not a suitable location for wind farms because it did not have enough wind capacity.

Those present were asked to join the campaign committee, spread the word and get others involved in the campaign which requires public and financial support.