Councillors in Kerry have defied the Office of the Planning Regulator by refusing to open up more areas of land for wind farms.
Kerry County Council made a unanimous decision in April to “omit rather than permit” areas for wind development in the draft county development plan for 2022-2028. This was in “total breach of national and regional policy”, a special planning meeting heard today.
Councillors decided in April to restrict wind farms to two small areas in the south of the county near Kilgarvan.
Council chief executive Moira Murrell outlined to today’s meeting that the statutory recommendation from the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), whose role is to assess plans in terms of national and regional guidelines, was to change their restricting stance.
However councillors were again unanimous in saying Kerry has the highest number of wind turbines in the country, while other counties have few or none.
Among the reasons put forward for restricting wind farms was that they would cause division within communities, scarring of the landscape, the lack of financial benefit to electricity users in Kerry and the prospect of rotting and rusting turbines being a blot of the landscape.
The meeting heard that Kerry already has 364 wind turbines installed.
Fine Gael councillor and Mayor of Listowel, Aoife Thornton, said there was a question of “proportionality”. Kerry was first in the country “by a country mile” when it comes to wind power generation, producting 750 megawatts per sq km while counties in the east had few or no turbines, she said.
“I’d like to see how we are in breach at all, going on how much we have done. I would ask if part of the OPR’s role is not to look at how other counties may catch up,” she said.
Areas of North and East Kerry were already “saturated” with turbines the meeting was told.
Turbines which had been put “one after another across the county” under the terms of 2006 guidelines had resulted in “a cumulative effect”, said Fianna Fáil’s Fionán Fitzgerald.
“Future generations will not thank us for scarring our county. Once they are up, once we put a roadway through bog, we have upset that area,” he said.
The prospect of rusting turbines was also raised.
“The biggest scandal of the next 20 years will be the turbines rotting and no one to take them down,” said Independent councillor Jackie Healy-Rae.
“Energy prices are through the roof and we have never had more turbines. So who is benefitting?” he asked.
He was one of a number of councillors to refer to how much communities have suffered in Kerry, while “not one brown penny” was taken off their electricity bills.
There were alternatives to wind farms, including putting the turbines off shore – but companies did not opt for this because of cost, said Labour councillor Marie Moloney.
Solar power was much more acceptable and a number of planning applications on solar were coming on stream, she said.
“There are several ways of producing renewable energy and supplying the national grid. We are not totally opposed to renewable energy and we have agreed an area in Kerry for wind turbines,” Cllr Moloney said.
“We are elected to represent the people and fight their battles for them,” she added.
The planning regulator was likely now to ask the Environment Minister to give a direction, Ms Murrell told councillors.
Director of planning, Niamh O’Sullivan, said Westmeath had already received such a direction on wind energy.
However Cllr Healy-Rae said the regulator was right to ask Westmeath to do more, as it had not one single turbine and comparing Kerry to Westmeath was “comparing chalk to cheese”.
Cork County Council had “stood their ground” against the regulator and taken a judicial review and got the OPR and minister’s direction overturned, he said.
He proposed that councillors retain the policy they had agreed in April, saying the people they represent “have had enough”.
The proposal was seconded by Fine Gael councillor Michael Foley and unanimously backed.
A letter will now go to the regulator within five days outlining the decision and giving the reasons for it.
Councillors did take on board the OPR suggestion to carry out environmental and other surveys, including a visual landscape survey, and other surveys on the archaeological landscapes of the Paps and Mangerton in any wind farm application.