AN BORD Pleanála has refused planning permission for a major wind farm in Connemara, consisting of 27 turbines, on the basis that it would “erode the visual and environmental amenity of this area” of Co Galway.
Overturning Galway County Council’s decision to approve the scheme after it was appealed by An Taisce, Inland Fisheries Ireland and six individual objectors, the board said the Connemara landscape “is one of the principal assets of the tourism industry” in the county.
Gaoi an Iarthar Teo wanted to erect 27 turbines in a scenic area of bog and lakeland landscape, 4km north of Ros a’Mhil. Each turbine would have had a hub height of 98m – 1½ times taller than Dublin’s Liberty Hall – and 82m rotor blades.
Senior planning inspector Kevin Moore, who dealt with the appeal, recommended that permission should be granted.
While he accepted that the project would have a “significant landscape and visual impact”, he did not believe that this would be “wholly negative”.
An Bord Pleanála decided unanimously not to accept the inspector’s recommendation, saying that the proposed wind farm would be an “excessively dominant feature and visually obtrusive form of development” in south Connemara’s “highly scenic open landscape”.
It also noted that the area was part of the Connemara Bog Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC), with a “high” landscape sensitivity designation in the current Galway County Development Plan – even though it was also identified as having wind farm potential.
“The development will also have ecological impacts, and while not affecting the integrity of the adjoining SAC, it will impact negatively on the ecological value of the site itself and on its value within the wider area . . . by reason of its nature and scale,” the planning board said.
“The proposed development would seriously injure the amenities of the area, would interfere with the character of the landscape which it is necessary to preserve and would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”
Welcoming the decision, An Taisce noted that it follows a number of other significant refusals by An Bord Pleanála of wind farms on the basis of ecological impact, particularly in special protection areas for hen harriers and other species protected by the EU birds directive.
The latest decision “highlights the need for an effective national strategy for future wind energy development to reconcile the imperative of meeting renewable energy targets while at the same time protecting biodiversity and our most iconic landscapes”.
An Taisce said the Gaoi an Iarthar Teo application site “should now form part of an extended Connemara mountain and peatland national park area”, and it called on the county council to exclude the site and others like it from the draft wind energy strategy for Co Galway.
The Irish Wind Energy Association, while not wishing to comment on the board’s decision, said there was a need for a forum where industry experts, the Department of the Environment, local authorities and An Bord Pleanála could “engage on planning issues”.
Meanwhile, the wind energy association – with the support of Gaelectric – has launched a new training course for teachers to raise young people’s awareness of Ireland’s “massive reserves of renewable power”.
The “Kid Wind” course can be found at iwea.com