People living near two proposed wind farms in north Leitrim have expressed fears that the turbines will trigger landslides that could ruin their homes and cause major environmental damage.
FuturEnergy Ireland, a Coillte and ESB joint venture, is awaiting a decision from An Bord Pleanála on its planning application for up to 10 turbines at Corry Mountain, near Dromahair on the Leitrim/Sligo border. It is also planning a wind farm on Dough mountain, Lissinagroagh, near Manorhamilton, and aims to lodge its planning application for that project in May.
However, a landslide on Shass mountain, near Drumkeeran in June, has led to calls to abandon the plans for both wind farms. Independent deputy Marian Harkin, who is part of a working group that was set up after the landslide, said it would be the essence of bad planning to permit these wind farms before the cause of that landslide was established.
The group has commissioned a study into the cause of the landslide and expects to receive it in the coming months. She said it was clear that there would be more landslides because of heavy rain and forestry plantations. Siting wind turbines on peatland sites was only asking for trouble: “It is critically important that we learn from these events, whether it be forestry or wind farms in the wrong places.”
Nuala McNulty, who runs the Tawnylust Lodge eco-tourism business at the foot of Dough mountain, said people had genuine fears that the erection of such large turbines could cause a major landslide. “The top of the mountain is upland bog and it is a fairly steep slope so there is real concern that if you disturb that, and then heavy rain comes, there will be a landslide,” she said. Some 18 turbines are planned for the site.
Lakes and rivers
"Climate change means more rain and storms and this area is already known for landslides," she said. There was a large landslide at Thur mountain beside us in 2008, again in 2018 and yet another in August and it was unbelievable to see the stuff that came down. We are very worried for our homes and our farm animals but also for the damage it would do to the streams, lakes and rivers."
She pointed to the landslide at Derrybrien in Galway in 2003 during wind farm construction by an ESB subsidiary, Hibernian Wind Power, which killed an estimated 100,000 fish. "If you lose 100,000 fish, you just don't come back from that." That landslide happened during wind turbine construction works.
Dough mountain is very rich in biodiversity but she said the turbines could chase that away. “I spend my mornings looking up at hen harriers circling around the mountain. We’ve had sightings of a very rare butterfly larvae – the marsh fritillary – up there and there are three really rare fish species in Lough Melvin. We have to protect what we have.”
She built her passive home 16 years ago and is interested in renewable energy but questions the long-term green credentials of wind turbines. “I would love to see a life cycle analysis of a wind turbine, from its manufacture, shipping to here, the building of roads to truck it up the mountain, the 500 cubic metres of concrete at the base of each one, the huge battery storage. And then after 20 years, they are finished and cannot be recycled. Surely there are more sustainable ways? We don’t want our children and grandchildren to turn around in decades to come and ask how did we allow this to happen.”
The height of the turbines is a major concern for residents near Corry mountain, where plans for Croagh wind farm are awaiting a decision from An Bord Pleanála.
"These turbines are like nothing we've seen before," said Adrienne Diamond who lives one kilometre from the proposed site, in the hills above Dromahair. She lives beside the Garvagh Glebe wind farm and pointed to the landslide that occurred when an access road was being built for the wind farm in 2008. "That was very serious. You see, it isn't just about the construction of the wind farm and the turbines and the foundations. For the proposed Croagh wind farm there will be miles of giant roads leading up to it. I don't think there would be landslides if the land was left alone. It's when it is disturbed that these things happen. Landslides in the past have caused devastating environmental pollution to the local rivers and lakes, as all the waterways are interconnected."
The existing turbines in the area are 50-100m tall but FuturEnergy Ireland is seeking permission for turbines of up to 170m tall. "There are only four such turbines in operation in Ireland. They are monsters," she said. "From Arigna to the back of our farm, there are 103 smaller turbines. Leitrim has its fair share of them."
She said locals also feared that the turbines would affect their tourism and farming businesses. With her partner, Graham Robertson, she runs guided canoe trips and a social farming business but said both businesses could be negatively affected by "the industrialisation of the existing beautiful landscape".
Asked about the concerns of locals, a spokeswoman for FuturEnergy Ireland said a geotechnical assessment had been conducted at the proposed Croagh wind farm site with respect to peat stability. The findings showed that the areas for development met “the relevant engineering standards within the acceptable factor safety engineering parameters, and as such have indicated that the site is suitable for the proposed wind farm development”.
She said the findings included recommendations and control measures for construction work in peat lands and they would be included in the civil engineering contractors’ specifications for the project and in the design phase of the project should it proceed.
She said the proposed Lissinagroagh wind farm was at an earlier stage but “the utmost importance and scrutiny” would be attached to any potential issues flagged from the studies and surveys.
“We understand local communities might have concerns about potential landslides and always carry out surveys and studies to ensure that the chosen site is suitable for a wind farm development,” she said.
Asked about the life cycle costs of carbon emissions from wind farms, she said numerous studies had been conducted on this and had found that the amount of CO2 emitted in the life cycle of a wind turbine was rapidly outweighed by the amount saved from the fossil fuels not used. “It should also be noted that wind turbines are constantly becoming more efficient and, as technology advances, the life cycle cost of carbon emissions from wind turbines will steadily fall.”
Wind energy guidelines: a lack of urgency
The failure of the Government to replace wind energy guidelines in place since 2006 has been questioned by opponents of the proposed wind farms.
Adrienne Diamond said strong regulations were needed to protect the environment and communities living close to wind turbines yet there was no urgency from the Government to replace outdated guidelines.
Marian Harkin said the new guidelines were supposed to be in line with World Health Organisation standards, which would mean that a turbine louder than a bird would be shut down. Yet there was a rush to ramp up wind energy provision not new guidelines.
Asked about the delay in updating the guidelines, a spokesman for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said guidance on the noise aspect was currently being finalised in conjunction with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications.
He said it wasn’t possible to give a date for publication but the finalisation of the guidelines “remains a priority”.
On the concerns about landslides, he said: “Having regard to recent peat slide incidents, consideration will be given to the possibility of further strengthening the provisions in the guidelines relating to peatlands with a view to ensuring – as much as is possible – that these types of incidents will not be repeated in the future.”