A WINDFARM development proposed for a site in west Clare will not be fast-tracked, An Bord Pleanála has decided.
Whitebeam Renewables had made a case to allow plans for six turbines, an energy storage unit and a substation to go directly to the board, under the provisions of the Strategic Infrastructure Act. The development is earmarked for a site covering the townlands of Doolough, Glenmore and Cahermurphy, 4.5km north of Kilmihil.
In a decision made earlier this month, the appeals board decided that while the development would meet the criteria as an energy infrastructure project, it does not qualify for the fast-track application process on the grounds of its scale.
The board received a request in June from Whitebeam Renewables for a determination on whether or not the development could be submitted as a Strategic Infrastructure application. This would cut down on the likelihood of hurdles like objections and appeals. Consultation meetings took place in July and September and Whitebeam made two further written submissions to the board after these.
Assessing the pre-application case, Senior Planning Inspector Conor McGrath fully assessed the proposed development, whose 110kv substation would be connected to the National Grid through an overhead looped line to the existing overhead network south of the site, and whose storage system would be responsive to energy demand, with a Maximum Export Capacity (MEC) of 60mw.
Mr McGrath examined the planning, energy and climate action contexts. In relation to the terms of the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023, the inspector noted that the site is located in a ‘Strategic Area for Wind Energy’, where development is acceptable in principle.
Nine applications for separate wind farm developments in the area were also referred to. Six of these had been submitted to Clare County Council, with the decisions later appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
In meetings and correspondence, a detailed argument was made by Whitebeam for access to the fast-track planning system. The developers highlighted the efficiency of the Battery Energy Storage Scheme (BESS). They stated that the wind farm would “represent a significant economic contribution to the region and the state as a whole”.
They also contended that the development would ”play a significant role in achieving national and regional targets for renewable energy”. “With an output of up to 60mw of renewable electricity including storage capacity, the proposed development will contribute to achieving national, regional and local renewable energy targets and objectives to address climate change that are currently in place,” Whitebeam said.
Following one of the consultation meetings, the company also submitted a legal opinion which supported the argument that the proposed development meets the threshold for Energy Infrastructure as set out under the Act.
Following a point-by-point assessment of the criteria for accessing the fast-track system, the inspector concluded that the development was not eligible to go directly to An Bord Pleanála.
“I am satisfied that while the development would be aligned with national and regional policies and objectives,” the inspector said, “it would not in itself by reason of its nature and scale contribute substantially to the achievement of such objectives.”
The inspector added that, “An application for permission for the proposed development should therefore be made in the first instance to the relevant planning authority”.
To be classed as strategic infrastructure a proposed development needs to meet a number of criteria set out by law. The Strategic Infrastructure Act was introduced in 2006 in an effort to speed up planning decisions for significant developments.