THE average income of between €18,000 and €20,000 that will be generated by a new windfarm on the western slopes of Mount Callan for 35 landowners, will help stem the scourge of rural depopulation.
Landowners, who hold a majority 63% shareholding in the West Clare Renewable Company, insist it is vital the project goes ahead to provide an income for future generations to remain on the land.
Payments depend on the size of the landholding near a wind turbine and the establishment of a new co-operative group has helped the landowners develop what they believe is a fair system for the division of the annual financial benefits, which total about €500,000 annually.
The size of the landholdings varies from half an acre to 600acres but John Talty insists small landowners are given as much weight and consideration in the decision-making process as the large ones.
The concept of keeping most of the financial dividend from renewable energy was first pioneered by the late Robert Tottenham, who started planting spruce trees on Mount Callan.
While some were encouraged to sell land to Coillte and private investors, Mr Tottenham always felt it was best for locals to benefit from the natural resources on their land and promoted the merits of wind energy up to his death in April 2007.
Over the last 50 years, his son Fred said forestry is a livelihood for their family and has given employment to a large number of neighbours.
“Over 10 years ago, a group of landowners, including my brothers and I, first sat down to discuss the possibility of working together on a windfarm project. Today, this is the largest community windfarm project proposed in the country.
“This will be the biggest change to the character of Mount Callan and we hope our children and those of our neighbours will gain the same benefits from a windfarm as we did from the introduction of forestry to the area,” he said.
Since the closure of the powerstation in Spanish Point, which was fuelled by turf provided by local landowners, John Mescall of Coore recalled landowners considered alternative forms of earning an income from their holdings.
Mr Mescall, who is a brother-in-law of company chairman Padraig Howard, said a group of landowners including John Talty, Joe Talty Senior, Michael Greene, Robert Tottenham and later Oliver Cleary tried to develop a wind energy project from 1995 to 2005 but quickly realised they needed outside expertise, which was provided by windfarm developer Michael Murnane in Cork.
In the process, Mr Mescall stressed every effort was made to keep turbines as far away from houses as possible and some were omitted once they didn’t meet certain criteria. However, he pointed out if a wind turbine has to be sited 1.5 or two kilometres away from a house, it would effectively eliminate the prospect of developing windfarms in most parts of the county and the West of Ireland.
Michael Greene insists the development is vital to keep the next generation on the land, having seen about 40 houses left derelict in the locality in recent decades.
Those involved include Anthony Hayes, Dunsallag East, Miltown Malbay; Christopher O’Neill, Shanaway, Miltown; Christopher Sexton, Mount Scott, Mullagh; Tony Hayes Junior, Dunsallagh East, Miltown; David Hayes, Dunsallagh East; Eileen Clarke, 20 Thomas Street, Limerick; Francis and Claire Tottenham, Farley’s End House, Elmore, Gloucester; Fred, George and Robbin Tottenham, Mount Callan House, Inagh; John Oliver Cleary, Cloonlaheen East, Mullagh; John Mescall, Coore East, Mullagh; Hugh Curran, Clohan Beg, Miltown; John Talty, Knockliscrane, Miltown; Martin Killeen, Mount Scott, Mullagh; Martin S Walsh, 21 Geary House, Georges Road, London; Michael Green, Letterkelly, Miltown; Gerry Kenneally, Cloonanaha, Inagh; Michael Sexton, Poulawilliam, Miltown; Joseph Talty Junior, Boolinrudda, Inagh; Pappy Droney, Shanaway West, Miltown; Patrick Kearney, Knockalassa, Miltown; John Cleary Junior, Inagh; Paul and Sean Cleary, Shanaway East; Senan Talty, Knockliscrane, Miltown; Thomas Griffin, Shanaway, Miltown; Sean Glynn, Shanaway, Miltown; Pat Vaughan, Moughana, Miltown; Joe Talty Senior, Cloonlaheen East, Mullagh; Fiona O’Neill, Shanaway, Miltown; Michael Talty, Coor; Mary Curtin, Letterkelly; Pat Reynolds, Knockalassa, Inagh.
Concerns remain over development
OPINIONS remain divided on the windfarm development at Mount Callan and, while some residents are keen to highlight its benefits, others are not convinced of its merits.
Over 45 objections were lodged with Clare County Council when the application by West Clare Renewables Limited was initially submitted in 2010.
One objector, Brendan Reddan of Ennis Road, Miltown Malbay, expressed concern about recent scientific research from the fields of audiology and vibration studies, highlighting alleged symptoms of sleep disturbance, headache, vertigo, tinnitus, irritability and fatigue or ‘wind turbine syndrome’.
In a comprehensive submission to the council, he alleged this is caused by low frequency vibration, which the turbines emit and can travel up to two kilometres.
“It passes through trees and walls so that it is impossible to keep it out of homes. Several inhabited houses will be within 500 to 600m of turbines if planning permission is granted,” his submission stated at the time.
“The present arbitrary guideline of 400m between homes and turbines is not sufficient in this regard as it is just a guideline.
“The church in Miltown Malbay is about 30 metres, the Clarion Hotel in Limerick is about 57 metres and the Spire in Dublin is about 121 metres high. The blades of some of the proposed turbines will be higher than Mount Callan itself.
“Like visitors, I am prepared to tolerate views of wind turbines in the distance but not within two kilometres of my home,” he added.
Several studies have been conducted over the years to discover if the proximity of existing or planned wind turbines to property has an impact on its value.
Acknowledging the results are mixed and contradictory, Mr Reddan pointed out most findings do agree that property values do not increase when wind turbines are located within a few hundred metres of inhabited homes.
“In these recessionary times, for many of us our homes are our only assets. Incredibly, there is no statutory provision to protect my property; county development planning is deaf to concerns of people who live in the county and national strategy seems to be dictated solely by the interests of international investors,” he claimed.
Other submissions made by objectors shared Mr Reddan’s concerns and expressed similar views.
However, the development was supported by a number of GAA clubs including Kilmurry Ibrickane, Kilmaley and Clonboney, the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point, local landowners and Miltown Malbay traders.