Sunday, May 26, 2024

Here’s our turbine future!

Anyone who has seen, at close range, the huge wind turbines now in place at Mount Lucas, in Co. Offaly, relatively close to the picturesque rural village of Clonbullogue, will probably appreciate just why so many people across Westmeath and other parts of Offaly and Meath are seriously apprehensive about plans for hundreds of even bigger wind turbines there.

Last Friday, in her final act as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Minister O’Sullivan drove her dagger deep into the independence of local public representatives, and effectively slapped the faces of Westmeath County Council members. She signed a directive to the Council, requiring them to remove from the Co. Development Plan the provision requiring industrial turbine farm developers to have a setback distance of 10 times the height of the turbines.
In light of that dismissal of the Council’s viewpoint, and the views of 7,000 or more Westmeath people being asked to live with the monster turbines, Topic decided to allow people living across wide areas of Westmeath to get a realtime view of what their landscape is going to look like.
These are real photos, taken last week, in the Clonbullogue area, where Bord na Mona has now erected many of their huge turbines – yet they are half the height of Mullingar Cathedral, smaller than those planned for Westmeath.
The Co. Offaly turbines, mostly located in bogland are still dwarfing houses anywhere near them, as our photos show.
The Minister is telling the Council (and every Council in the country by extension), effectively, that even if turbines 300m high were planned and approved, they will go up. Where now the pre-election promises, and claims by politicians? What the Minister says is that their Department rules the roost, and the Council must remove anything that might obstruct plans for wind turbine farms.
At Monday’s Council meeting, not surprisingly, Cllr. Johnny Penrose (with the backing of his brother, Labour TD Willie Penrose) was disappointed at the response, but hoped that in the national review of wind energy guidelines, due out in months, the new Minister might be more sympathetic, he hoped.
Cllr Andrew Duncan said elected officials must protect their communities, and the Council can still fight the Department and incorporate noise and other problems into their policy on wind energy. It was a poor state of affairs that Minister O’Sullivan, in her last act as Minister, refused to allow the set-back distance ruling to stand, despite the Council and thousands of people making submissions on it. It was sad that the Dept of the Environment is still referring to old guidelines.
The Department of Health was not given the opportunity to have an input, and the World Health Organisation’s views on noise levels was also not taken into account. He claimed Irish noise levels are DOUBLE that of their noise limits for turbines. Families in Offaly and Wexford are seeking psychiatric help for the problems caused by the sound from the massive turbines, he said.
The new turbines in our photos, on the tract of Bord na Móna bogland near Mount Lucas, are 150 metres high (100m to hub top, with the 100m diameter blades adding on the extra 50 metres). The next group of 29 wind turbines to be built in the Offaly-Westmeath area will have an overall maximum height of 166m, mainly in the Yellow River Wind Farm project, in a 1,000 hectare triangle between Rochfortbridge, Rhode and Ballinabrackey/Castlejordan.
In June, An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the well advanced Yellow River Windfarm proposals, as previously reported, and 16 of the 20 turbines will be 166m high, with the other 13 reaching a height of 156m – as stipulated by An Bord Pleanála.
Local people have raised serious objections, but have been taken aback by the decision of An Bord Pleanála.
The present plans by major wind farm promoters, for hundreds of turbines in Westmeath, Meath and other parts of the midlands, involve machines that are probably the highest ever built onshore in Europe – with an overall height of 185 metres. That’s nearly three and a half times the height of the distinctive twin towers of Mullingar Cathedral! And they are 20 metres or more higher than the turbines in our photos.
When Topic spoke to residents in Clonbullogue in recent weeks, those we met took the view that they can’t do anything now about the 29 turbines stretching across kilometres of the bogland near them, the bogland yielding huge quantities of peat for Bord na Móna for decades.
The question now is, with present Department and Ministerial attitudes, is it to be a case of “hard cheese, folks, we want them, so you get them”?
Is Westmeath soon to become an industrial windfarm site, rather than one of the country’s most underrated historic and scenic counties? Decision by diktat is now the norm, it seems.
Curiously, the two large companies who had been lobbying so strongly to get the go-ahead for their windfarms with the biggest wind turbines of all, many over 600ft in height across Westmeath and other midlands counties, have been strangely silent of late. Do they know something we don’t?

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