Councillors in Co Kerry have rejected an intervention by the Office of the Planning Regulator calling on them to open more areas of the county to wind development.
A meeting on Monday heard that the unanimous decision in April by councillors to “omit rather than permit” wind development in the draft county development plan for 2022-2028 was in breach of national and regional policy. They had opted to restrict such development to two small areas near Kilgarvan.
Council chief executive Moira Murrell told the meeting that the statutory recommendation from the regulator, who assesses whether plans comply with national and regional guidelines, was to change this restrictive stance.
However, councillors argued that Co Kerry had the highest number of wind turbines in the country at 364, with others having few or none. They said such developments cause community division, damage landscapes and offer little financial benefit for residents of the county.
“I’d like to see how we are in breach at all going on how much we have done,” said Cllr Aoife Thornton (Fine Gael), who added that the regulator should examine how other counties might “catch up” with Kerry.
The meeting heard areas of north and east Kerry were ”saturated” with turbines and that guidelines on the issue needed to be updated.
Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae (Ind) said energy prices were still “through the roof” despite the county producing so much energy.
“So who is benefitting?” he asked.
Cllr Marie Moloney (Labour) said turbines could be put offshore, but this incurred greater costs for companies, and that solar power was a much more acceptable way of generating green energy.
Ms Murrell said the regulator was likely to now ask the Minister for Local Government to give a direction regarding the development plan. The council’s director of planning, Niamh O’Sullivan, said Westmeath had already received such a direction on wind energy.
However, Mr Healy-Rae said the regulator was right to ask Westmeath to do more as they had not one single turbine and that comparing Kerry to Westmeath was “comparing chalk to cheese”.
He said Cork County Council had “stood their ground” against the regulator and taken a judicial review and got the regulator and Minister’s direction overturned.
“Defend the people we represent here because they have had enough,” he said.
Mr Healy-Rae proposed retaining the policy position agreed on in April, which was seconded and unanimously backed by members. A letter will now go to the regulator within five days outlining the decision and giving the reasons for it.