ESB to dismantle 70 turbines at landslide wind farm that cost state millions in fines

Stock image

Caroline O'Doherty

ESB is to take down Derrybrien wind farm which has cost the state millions of euros in fines after it was built in breach of environmental regulations.

Dismantling of the 70 wind turbines in Co Galway will begin as soon as a specialist contractor is recruited.

ESB stopped electricity production at the site in the Slieve Aughty mountains last month after it was refused a form of retrospective planning permission known as substitute consent.

An Bord Pleanála ruled it was not possible to mitigate the damage caused by the wind farm and it could not be brought into compliance with planning laws.

ESB said on Wednesday it had looked at the various legal options for it and concluded the only solution left was to decommission it.

Derrybrien has cost the state €17 million in fines since November 2019 when the European Court of Justice ruled proper environmental impact assessments were not carried out when it was originally granted planning permission over 20 years ago.

The flaw is the planning procedures came to light after construction work on the wind farm caused a landslide in 2003 which caused major damage to land, property, rivers and wildlife.

Fines have been mounting at a rate of €15,000 a day since the court ruling.

The fines were imposed on the state rather than the company as planning procedures are a function of the state.

ESB, which owns the wind farm through its subsidiary Gort Windfarms, has always maintained it had no case to answer as it complied with the procedures set down for it.

The subsequent dispute between the state and ESB over who had responsibility for retrospectively addressing the flaws has dragged on for over a decade.

Martin Collins of Derrybrien Community Group which pushed for investigations into the landslide and has spent years monitoring the wind farm said removing it was the right decision at this stage but added: “There are no winners out of this.”

“We’re in an energy crisis and a wind farm is being taken down but it should never have come to this,” he said.

“There were times over the years when it could have been resolved but that’s not the approach that was taken.”

Mr Collins said the community was not informed of the decision to decommission and he had concerns about how the job would be carried out.

“It’s a huge job. There are 70 turbines to be taken down. I presume they’re not going to dig out the concrete bases but even so, there will be a lot of activity on the mountain again.

“And what happens afterwards? The site will have to be managed and drainage will have to be maintained indefinitely. I’d hope we’d get some clarity on that.”

An ESB spokesman said it was not possible to say at the moment how long the dismantling would take but said all the work would be carried out in accordance with planning laws and regulations.

Derrybrien had been expected to continue in production until 2040.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which handles the case on behalf of the State said: "The Department notes the decision announced by the ESB today.

“Further engagement with the Commission will now take place to clarify the status of Ireland’s compliance with the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) judgment.”