An appeals board ruling on the ESB’s wind farm at Derrybrien in south Galway “casts a major doubt over the legality of the project”, according to Loughrea solicitor Dan Shiels.
Mr Shiels was commenting after An Bord Pleanála refused substitute consent to an ESB subsidiary, Gort Windfarms Ltd, for the wind farm and all works in response to the 2003 peat-slide event at the site.
The ESB entity lodged the substitute consent application through a remedial environmental impact assessment report in June 2020 in an attempt to regularise the project’s planning status.
The peat slide in October 2003 during excavation work for the wind farm saw 450,000 tonnes of peat disturbed over an area of 25 hectares and resulted in the mass movement of 250,000 tonnes of material downslope.
Inland Fisheries Ireland told the appeals board that investigations after the peat slide indicated that about 50,000 fish died in an 18km stretch of river down to Lough Cutra.
The State has already amassed fines of €17 million as a result of an ongoing failure to ensure proper standards were adhered to at the Derrybrien development.
Now the appeals board has ruled that it is precluded from granting substitute consent to Gort Windfarms Ltd in the case after concluding that the significant effects on the environment from the project “were clear, profound and unacceptable”.
The board found that works undertaken by the applicants subsequent to the peat event and during the operation of the wind farm did not render acceptable the peat slide’s significant environmental effects.
The decision by the appeals board dismisses the recommendation of its own inspector to grant the substitute consent. Galway County Council had no objection to the granting of substitute consent.
Mr Sheils, who represents a substantial number of local clients in the long-running saga, said on Tuesday: “It is a very significant decision by An Bord Pleanála and requires due consideration.”
On what the decision means for the wind farm operation, Mr Sheils said: “That is something none of us are entirely certain of at the moment. It certainly casts major doubt on the legality of the project and we are currently investigating that.”
In a statement, the ESB said that it was “disappointed with this decision and it will be studying the details before deciding on the next steps to take”.