Councillors have voted to adopt a new County Development Plan but stand firm in their opposition to leaving the door open for more wind turbine development in the landscape.
Kerry County Council (KCC) is set to clash with the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) after councillors voted to limit provision for wind energy development in the new Kerry County Development Plan (KCDP) 2022-28 at a special meeting on Monday.
Councillors voted unanimously to ratify the document which includes the removal of parts of the county ‘open to consideration’ from the ‘Wind Zoning Map’ for development.
The new plan also proposes that two smaller areas located in Kilgarvan be considered for wind turbines in the future.
In April, councillors voted that Material Amendment Ref 12.9 be inserted into the draft document. However, the OPR said this was contrary to the Wind Zoning Methodology provided in the draft KCDP and is at variance with the National Climate Action Policy.
Before Monday’s vote, KCC CEO Moira Murrell cautioned councillors that not removing the amendment [12.9] risked leaving Kerry’s wind energy policies exposed to even stricter enforcement at national level.
“We have a recommendation from the Regulator, and this is the highest level of warning they give a council in making a Plan,” she said.
“Should 12.9 not be removed, the Regulator will intervene byway of a draft decision. I don’t know what that will be, but it’s a fair assessment that we will be asked to remove a significant part of our wind energy policy, if not all of it…my sense is that by leaving in 12.9 it will be a lot less restrictive in relation to our wind policy than if we remove it,” Ms Murrell added.
But councillors remained steadfast by stating Kerry had ‘played its part’ in contributing to the National Climate Action Policy. Collectively, they claimed people living in localities where turbines are present have ‘had enough’.
Cllr Jim Finucane (FG) asked the OPR to consider Kerry’s existing contribution to energy, which is between 18 to 20 percent of the State’s wind energy output. He also referenced Tarbert Power Station - and the likelihood of Shannon LNG - as further examples.
“Take Tarbert Power Station, at present this is generating 350 to 400MW. The LNG would generate 600MW. This is all about megawatts. I think we have to fight a case that we are already a significant source of energy generation,” he said.
Cllr Fionnán Fitzgerald (FF) said future generations would ‘never forgive us for scarring our county’.
“I certainly wouldn’t be for turning back on this,” he said.
“In relation to wind and renewable energy, the contribution of this county is second to none. What I have heard from people in my area is that there is an accumulative effect around wind energy, around wind turbines…the scarring of our county cannot be undone,” Cllr Fitzgerald warned.
Cllr Cathal Foley (SF) proposed that 12.9 be retained in the Plan and called for the insertion of further environmental and habitat measures.
“There is no appetite from any councillor to remove 12.9. This is going to go back to the Minister. The Minister will need to be lobbied; we have our own Minister who can lobby as well in the direction we should be taking,” Cllr Foley said.
Cllr Aoife Thornton (FG) questioned the Regulator’s input in terms of Kerry’s implementation of national policy. She said Kerry was ‘leading the way’ in Ireland and Europe regarding energy.
“For the Regulator to make comments that what we’re doing may significantly and unreasonably affect renewable output is just wrong,” she said.
“In Kerry, our output is 750MW per square kilometre where we have 364 turbines. The east coast has between 0 and 50 [turbines] in many of their counties,” said Cllr Thornton.
"We have some neighbouring counties with only a third of what we’re offering. I’d like to see how long it will take for the rest to catch up, and how Kerry can even be in breach of national policy,” she added.
Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae (Ind) said it was hard to countenance a situation where energy prices were ‘going through the roof’ while pressure for more wind turbines was being put on communities.
“We have done more than any other county to reach our targets. My electoral area [Castleisland MD) has the most wind turbines in the county at 48 percent. The fact they [OPR] can’t bring the people with them on this issue tells its own story,” he said.
KCC must now inform the OPR of its decision. The latter will issue a draft response. KCC will be informed of this in the coming weeks.
The OPR proposed four recommendations and one observation in relation to the KCDP.
The Kerry County Development Plan 2022-28 was voted unanimously for adoption by councillors.