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Senator Rónán Mullen, Senator Sharon Keogan, Senator Gerard Craughwell, Councillor Geraldine Donohue, Senator Michael McDowell and Senator Victor Boyhan at Derrybrien.

Clare TD to back bill to retain controversial windfarm

Deputy Michael McNamara is supporting a new bill by a former Attorney General that aims stop the decommissioning of 70 turbines on the controversial €200m Derrybrien Wind Farm site.

Deputy McNamara said he didn’t think this wind farm should have been built in the first instance and doesn’t believe it would secure planning permission now, before stressing this is not the issue.

“The issue is that it is there, the damage has been incurred and we have taken all of the downsides of it.

“That includes the local community, the communities around Slieve Aughty and the environment. The issue now is if we can obtain a benefit from it during an energy crisis.

“It is now proposed to build 19 wind turbines on a blanket bog at the top of Slieve Bernagh. It is ridiculous that having done the damage on Slieve Aughty, create further damage decommissioning it and then repeat the exercise on the top of Slieve Bernagh.”

The Independent Deputy confirmed he has been contacted by constituents in North Clare, North East Clare and Derrybrien, who feel decommissioning this wind farm will make a bad situation even worse.

The ESB, through its wholly owned subsidiary Gort Windfarms Ltd, has confirmed it will decommission the Derrybrien Wind Farm.

This follows on from the recent decision of An Bord Pleanála not to grant substitute consent following an application by Gort Windfarms Limited in response to a notice served by Galway County Council.

Independent Senators Michael McDowell, Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell, Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen visited Derrybrien on Friday, before putting forward a legislative proposal to save the facility that is responsible for 1% of Ireland’s wind energy.

In an interview with the Clare Champion, Senator Michael McDowell insisted this proposal is feasible as the national energy crisis can be deemed to be part of an exceptional circumstance that could facilitate allowing the Derrybrien Wind Farm to be vested in a new agency such as the Western Development Commission, which would include all freehold and leasehold interests and all the plant, machinery, infrastructure, and ancillary works.

“The only issue is whether Derrybrien has to be knocked down or not and whether this would involve another planning application for permission to decommission it completely.

“We say you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube environmentally. Errors were made 17 years ago when the peat slide happened.

“The current situation doesn’t prevent Ireland from enacting legislation that would vest this wind farm in some agency who would hold it for the public good, which would deprive the developers (ESB) of the benefit of it.”

He confirmed a group of independent senators would be drafting up a new bill in the coming weeks to ensure their proposal can be enacted and to provide that income derived from the operation of the wind farm will be additional to and not in substitution for other funding for the Western Development Commission.

The former Attorney General said Ireland can’t afford to throw away an investment of €200 million in roads, turbines and other infrastructure in Derrybrien because 17 years ago there was an inadequate Environmental Impact Assessment.

“Each turbine has reinforced concrete that can’t be removed without causing huge environmental damage. What would this achieve? It is not going to prevent any further peat slides. It is pointless. No other country in Europe would throw out an investment of €200 million in the middle of an energy crisis.

“It doesn’t make any sense politically, economically or environmentally, to decommission the wind farm.”

Acknowledging the current Attorney General has probably told Climate Action Minister, Eamon Ryan the ESB has reached the end of the road with its substitute consent application that was refused by An Bord Pleanála, he stressed they were proposing something radically different.

Describing the current scenario as “environmentalism gone mad”, he said people can’t believe it has produced this type of result.

Senator Gerard Craughwell, who has visited the Derrybrien site, stressed the senators are aware this wind farm didn’t comply with environmental impact assessment requirements and that the ESB and any other potential owner cannot benefit from what happened.

He said it makes no sense to shut down this site permanently as it can provide electricity for up to 50,000 homes at peak output.

“We have €70 million of hardware on the wind farm that is deteriorating due to lack of use. These machines are made to run. Under our proposal, the wind farm could generate electricity and an income for the rural community.

“It is a sin to have turbines lying idle in the middle of an energy crisis. The decommissioning cost is estimated to be between €70 and €200 million. Who is going to fund this?

“I can’t see any political party objecting to what we are proposing to get this situation sorted. We could have legislation drafted in a month and passed in another month.”

Gort Wind Farms Limited are allowed to run the turbines for up to two hours a day to keep them operational for safety reasons.

Senator Rónán Mullen said this is a story about how wasting taxpayers’ money gets lost in bureaucracy.

“There will not be any environmental damage if these wind turbines are turned on. It has been argued this is the fruit of the poisoned tree and we can’t eat it.

“Because it was wrong in the way it came about, we have to abandon it or spend more money or environmental risk decommissioning it.

“This is nuts. There isn’t an unlimited supply of money. We can get much needed electricity on to the grid at a time we are worried about energy security and the cost of it.”

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