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Planning Application Expected For New Wind Farm Soon

Thursday, 6 April 2017

ELEMENT Power will apply for planning permission for a 15-turbine wind farm between Geashill and Walsh Island in a couple of months, local residents have said.

Opponents of the wind farm have vowed to fight the project following visits from representatives of the company.

The wind energy firm, which was behind an abandoned plan to develop a much bigger scheme of wind farms across the Midlands for electricity export, plans to connect power generated at Moanvane Wind Farm to the Irish grid.

It appears the proposed turbines will be located on sites belonging to landowners who agreed to lease property under the previous Greenwire project.

Moanvane is one of six townlands where the 15 turbines would be located. The others are Ballykeane, Kilcooney, Bogtown, Garrymona and Enaghan.

Element Power plan to erect turbines with a tip height of up to 169 metres, some 20 metres higher than those at the Bord na Mona wind farm nearby in Mountlucas.

In information given to some residents, the company says the tip height for the Moanvane facility will represent a reduction from the original Greenwire height which was 185 metres.

Element says it is committed to developing wind farms so that Ireland will meet its renewable energy targets by 2020.

The most recent meeting of Offaly County Council heard that pre-planning discussions have taken place between the company and the local authority.

Residents who contacted the Tribune did so on condition of anonymity because they did not want to cause friction with neighbours or leave themselves open to criticism.

However, signs opposing the Moanvane development have already gone up in many places between Geashill, Walsh Island and Cloneygowan.

One woman said she was very concerned as a mother of four young children who had decided to live her life in a rural area.

'We've nothing against wind energy. We're all for alternative energy, we've nothing against it, but this current proposed development has a number of issues with it,' she said.

'They're too high, they're too close. We're all for them but not at the back of us.'

She denied that local opposition was merely based on a 'not in my back yard' argument and said the current Department of Environment guidelines for wind farms were outdated.

Residents who spoke to the Tribune also said the Element proposal was dividing the community and pitting neighbour against neighbour.

While it is not certain that those who signed contracts to lease land for the Greenwire project a number of years ago are legally bound to agree to the new plan, opponents are concerned Element believe they have local support for Moanvane Wind Farm.

'I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for landowners who are in this situation but there are some who went into it blindly and who are tied into a contract now and if they had their time again, they wouldn't have signed it,' said one resident.

Residents said they do not wish to live among a 'forest' of wind farms.

There are 28 turbines on the Mountlucas wind farm and Bord na Mona is hoping to erect 32 more at Cloncreen.

Planning permission has been granted for the Yellow River wind farm project between Rhode and Croghan.

'They're going to slap up their turbines and devalue our property,' said one man.

He recalled promises being made previously about road improvement work being carried out but now believes that will not happen, even if a turbine is installed close to his house.

Some residents have examined the maps of the proposed wind farm and carried out measurements of how far turbines will be from their property.

In one case a turbine will be at least 585 metres from one family home - just 85 metres beyond the 500-metre set-back limit which dates from 2006.

'But that was for when the turbines would be only 40 metres high, not 169,' the man said.

The residents accept that they are living in an area designated in the Offaly County Development Plan as suitable for consideration for wind farm development.

'I've seen the map with the line drawn across it and tough on you if you're one side of the line,' said one man.

They are aware the Development Plan says wind farms should not be located within two kilometres of villages but say at least one estate in Walsh Island will be too close to a turbine if the two kilometre limit is measured from the post office.

They are reluctant to accept assurances from councillors that other stipulations will apply, including a provision that wind farms should be placed on cutaway bog and be developed from the centre of the bog outwards.

The Yellow River project has already been granted planning permission even though it is not located on cutaway bog and is close to Croghan Hill, they pointed out.

'This will open the floodgates for more and more of these to go on agricultural land,' said one resident.

'We're not going to get new guidelines for the next three or four years. The Government has admitted the guidelines that are there are not fit for purpose but in the absence of anything we have to use them.

'I'd like for Offaly County Council to reopen the Development Plan and say that wind turbines must be located at a minimum 1.5km set-back distance from any residence.

'If the likes of this type of thing continues, people will leave their homes and nobody will purchase their homes and this will eventually become a wasteland and no one will want to live here and what will they do? Put more turbines in it. There'll be no community, there'll be no Walsh Island.'

Other residents are concerned about the impact on business, especially thoroughbred horses.

One breeder said their livelihood could be ruined and cited research in Portugal which proved vibrations and low frequency noise from wind turbines damaged foals in nearby paddocks.

Foals born on a farm close to a turbine developed foreleg deformities within three months, the study found.

'They brought in two outside animals in case there was a genetic disposition to that. Within six months they developed the same deformities,' said the breeder.

The behaviour of horses, especially thoroughbreds, is affected by shadow flicker and noise from turbines, the breeder said.

Wind farms have been opposed by all of the representative associations of the equine industry in Ireland.

One resident said farmers who had qualified for REPS (an EU grant scheme which promoted protection of the environment) now feared animal and sanctuaries would be ruined by turbines.

In literature received by residents Element say they would like to talk to people in the area 'to get their thoughts' on their proposals.

A brochure says wind farms are crucial in the fight against global warming and on one page there are three pictures of places affected by Shannon flooding.

The company says it is at the beginning of its design process and feedback fro the local community 'will inform the design process as it progresses'.

Element say the community benefit scheme could be worth up to €1.25 million for the area.

The company says 75 jobs could be created during the construction, operation and maintenance phases of the project.

At 50 megawatts, the wind farm would result in about €400,000 in rates being paid to Offaly County Council.

An environmental impact assessment will be carried out by the company.

A spokesperson for Element Power said the company was engaging with people regarding a wind farm that is 'under consideration'.

'The company has met with people on an individual basis and this has been very constructive, giving everyone an equal opportunity to express their thoughts and views on its proposal,' the spokesperson added.

'The feedback from these meetings is helping to inform the outline of what form a suitable and appropriate project might take. In addition to continuing our one-to-one meetings with people, the company will be meeting with any other interested parties, including the local councillors.

'Element Power will be holding a public consultation event in due course to provide detailed information on the project.'

The opponents of the Moanvane Wind Farm have rejected offers of compensation - including triple glazing and funding for household appliances - and financial assistance under a community benefit scheme.

'If [wind farms] are so benign and so great for us we should be jumping over one another wanting them. If they're so good for us, why is there such animosity towards them?' said one resident.

'We're just regular people who are worried. There's definitely a couple of hundred people who are definitely going to be affected.

'If planning goes in we're going to oppose it. We're going to put in our submissions against planning.'

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