Kerry County Council out of step with national policy on wind energy projects, says planning regulator

Council ‘omitting’ instead of permitting areas to open to wind energy schemes in draft development plan

The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has told Kerry County Council it is out of step with national policy by “omitting” rather than permitting areas to open to wind energy projects in its draft development plan.

The regulator has also taken issue with councillors making a strong commitment to allowing turf cutting for those using the fuel to heat homes, saying that this could endanger protected peatlands. The plan, for the period to 2028, is to be voted on next month.

Council members in April opted to restrict any further wind development in all but a narrow section of the county near Kilgarvan. Huge numbers of submissions against any further wind turbines in east and north Kerry were received during the draft consultation phase.

Planners outlined how the county has the highest number of wind turbines in the State and produces more wind per square metre than any other county and some countries.

The regulator had already taken issue with attempts by councillors to impose a 1km setback distance between turbines and houses (several sought a 1.5km gap), which it deemed to be out of line with national guidelines. As part of their response, the councillors removed swathes of the county identified as open to consideration and restricted all further development to areas near Kilgarvan.

The OPR has told the council that it has omitted the areas it has identified as “open to consideration” for wind energy and instead inserted two smaller areas as in the south of the county “which areas had been almost entirely ruled out through the sieve analysis carried out by the planning authority”.

The proposed “approach to wind energy” in Kerry was contrary to national wind energy development guidelines for local authorities as well as to national targets for renewable energy under the Climate Action Plan 2021, the regulator said.

An amendment in the draft plan “to support the continued cutting and distribution of turf in order for people to heat their homes” is also coming under fire. The OPR said this should have included a stipulation that it be “from appropriate locations outside of designated nature conservation sites”.

Carbon-neutral policies

However, there has been little indication that councillors will row back on their proposals following the criticisms.

“The planning regulator’s office needs to come down here and see what has taken place already in Scartaglin and in Ballylongford,” said Killarney-based Cllr Niall O’Callaghan.

He said he supported carbon-neutral policies but that “there was nothing green” about wind energy in Kerry as it affects the landscape, the wind harrier and other bird and animal species and people. He said the energy benefit of onshore wind was questionable and that turbines should be developed offshore.

The regulator has set out the steps it can take if the council goes against national policy when the plan is adopted. These include asking the Minister for Local Government to take steps “to remedy the situation” and issue a direction.

“Since our inception, the OPR has made approximately 400 recommendations on local authority plans. The vast majority of these have been accepted and/or satisfactorily addressed by the local authority without requiring a recommendation to the Minister,” a spokesman said.