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Coillte defend track record on East Clare wind farm consultation

THE developers of a multimillion euro wind farm planned for a site in East Clare have defended their track record in consulting with the local community. At a presentation to local councillors, Coillte outlined a detailed Community Engagement plan, which includes more than 2,000 house calls to those likely to be affected by the Carrownagowan Wind Farm, proposed for the north west slopes of Slieve Bearnagh, around a mile-and-a-half from the village of Bodyke.

The meeting between representatives of the forestry service, who own the 750 hectare site, and propose to build 19 turbines, with a maximum tip height of 169m, took place at the request of Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Pat Hayes who questioned the adequacy of the communication process.

Responding to these concerns, a representative of Coillte explained that a process of engagement with the community had started in March of 2018, focusing on those living within 2km of the development site and involving over 2,000 house calls and small group meetings. At a total of 19 workshops and formal gatherings, Coillte said it had made people aware of progress with the design of the wind farm and that it had shared versions of it as they were produced. The company also outlined how its consultations had focused on the impact of the wind farm – which it says could power the equivalent of 66,500 homes – and on the Community Benefit Fund (CBF).

The presentation, made in June to representatives of the Killaloe Municipal District, also listed eight meetings with local town representatives, the delivery of newsletters to those living between one and 5km from the site, the creation of an online tour (on carrownagowanwindfarm.ie) and the delivery of project brochures to 6,400 homes in the East Clare postal region.

The briefing also included details on the next stages of developing the CBF, which Coillte says could contribute €10m locally over the lifetime of the project. The company outlined that a community-based organisation is to be formed to “govern and administer” the fund.

Locally, concerns have been raised over a number of facets of the project, including sound disturbance, the visual impact of the turbines – which will be visible from Holy Island, the effect on tourism, farming, the environment and other issues.

Earlier this year, councillors raised concerns about the lack of a public meeting, which Coillte said had been prevented by Covid-19 restrictions. Elected representatives then sought a direct briefing from company representatives ahead of the submission of the planning application.

The Coillte presentation also referred to the provisions of the Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS), the first version of which was published by government at the start of this year. Coillte said that it expects the second version to the scheme to make provision for investment by individuals and community groups in wind farm projects, and to derive a dividend from them.

The planning application for the Carrownagowan Wind Farm is to be lodged later this month and will go directly to An Bord Pleanála, as strategic infrastructure. An Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR), which is to be submitted with the application, will examine noise, vibration and shadow flicker, as well as the impact on human health, biodiversity, air quality and the landscape. In terms of the environmental benefits, Coillte contends that the project could generate approximately 91 megawatts per hour of renewable energy. “Over the lifetime of the project, 2.8 million tonnes of carbon will be offset,” a  project brochure outlines. A photomontage included in the brochure, illustrates the visibility of the wind farm from up to 10 kilometres away in Feakle and Coillte has previously described the turbines as being visible from Lough Derg.

Under the Strategic Infrastructure Act, public submissions can be made to An Bord Pleanála within the period allowed for the application to be inspected (minimum of six weeks). It is at the discretion of the board to decide on whether or not to hold an oral hearing.

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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