Engineer challenges ‘unfair’ planning procedure for Co Meath wind farm
‘Grave concerns’ about the impact on his autistic son, his family and Kells
John Callaghan alleges the normal planning process for the wind farm has been “by-passed”. Photograph: PA
An engineer has alleged a “fundamentally unfair” planning procedure has been adopted for a proposed wind farm development in Co Meath which he fears will adversely impact on the environment and health and development of his autistic son.
John Callaghan, Headfort Road, Kells, who has studied renewable energy at postgraduate level and read medical research concerning WindTurbine syndrome, says he has “grave concerns” about the impact of the proposed wind farm on his autistic son, himself, his family and the local area, including wildlife, heritage and the cultural landscape, particularly archaeological.
His seven year old son is autistic and very sensitive to noise, he said. Research also indicated people with autism are afraid of visual dominance of wind turbines on the skyline, he added.
He alleges the normal planning process has been “by-passed” and matters appeared to have been “secretly” discussed with An Bord Pleanála before it decided a planning application could be made directly to the board.
The proposed €240 million Emlagh development is for 46 wind turbines, each with a height of up to 169 metres and a power output of 2.5 to 3.5MW, on three clusters of lands at Farragara, Castletownmoor and Ísealchríocha, near Kells.
The developer claims, if permission is secured, the wind farm will generate substantial electricity for up to 30 years, jobs and some €3.5m for local projects over the lifetime of the development.
The Board is expected to give a decision next April on the planning application by North Meath Wind Farm Ltd (NMWF), whose majority shareholder is Element Power Ireland Ltd (EPIL).
Mr Callaghan claims the alleged bypassing of the normal planning process means the developer has plenty of opportunity to meet any concerns of the Board while he, a person of limited resources, has just one opportunity to deal with matters within a specified time scale. The entire procedure is “fundamentally unfair and prejudicial to me” and he was concerned the “appropriate level of detachment” had not been applied by the board.
He claims EPIL was formulating the much larger Greenwire Project, but, when that could not proceed as originally intended due to decisions in other EU states, it was decided EPIL would in the interim create a new entity and “a sub-set” proposal of the Greenwire project would be drafted and proceed so as to by-pass the normal planning process.
Mr Justice Brian McGovern this week granted an application on behalf of the developer to fast-track in the Commercial Court Mr Callaghan’s challenge to the procedure adopted by the Board. Michael O’Donnell BL, for Mr Callaghan, asked the court to bear in mind his client has limited resources.
Mr Callaghan’s case is against the Board while EPIL, Element Power Ireland and NMWF are notice parties.
In his affidavit to have the action fast-tracked, Kevin O’Donovan, director of EPIL and NMWF, said his side believed the proceedings were aimed at delaying the progress of the planning application for this development which must have permission in place by late 2015 to be completed in time to meet Ireland’s 2020 renewable energy targets.
EPIl wrote to the Board last May seeking consultations concerning the proposed development, he said. There were two “pre-planning consultation meetings” and minutes of those were put on the Board’s file.
A Board inspector later put on the file his report recommending the Board determine the Emlagh development was “strategic infrastructure development”, he said. On September 11th 2014, the Board made that determination, meaning any application for permission must be made directly to the Board.
EPIL has developed some 45MW output of wind farms to date and hopes to complete construction of another 51MW in 2015, he said. It was the proponent of the Greenwire project of 40 wind farms in the midlands aimed at exporting electricity to the UK. There have been delays putting the appropriate policy framework in place and EPIL consequently secured Gate 3 grid capacity which, subject to permission, will be connected at the Emlagh site on which EPIL and NMWF have spent €2m to date, he added.