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Excavators attempting to halt the flow of mud following the landslide at Derrybrien.

Group’s anger at effort to halt windfarm decommissioning

A local environment lobby group has accused Galway county councillors of showing a “blatant disregard to their legal obligations” after their call to halt the decommissioning of the controversial Derrybrien Wind Farm.

The ESB has confirmed it will begin work on dismantling the 70 wind turbines in accordance with planning laws and regulations after An Bord Pleanála refused its application for substitute consent for the development.

The application for retrospective permission was made after the EU’s Court of Justice found Ireland was in breach of environmental standards in relation to the works carried out at the site.

Galway County Councillors recently supported a motion calling on the government to direct the ESB to recommence operation of the Derrybrien wind farm and in doing so provide whatever legislative requirements that are necessary to ensure it may not be legally contested.

EU fines amounting to a lump sum of €5 million and a daily fine of €15,000 plus legal costs were imposed by the European Court of Justice in November 2019.

The group estimated the cost of fines to the taxpayer to date is almost €20 million.

The penalties were levied after it found Ireland had failed to comply with a previous court ruling in relation to the wind farm where a landslide occurred during construction in 2003.

It has also emerged Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has tried to seek an EU derogation to stop the decommissioning but was told by the Attorney General there is no legal mechanism to do this.

In a hard-hitting statement, the Derrybrien Environment Group claimed the intent displayed by the councillors and at least one local Dáil deputy to blatantly disregard their legal obligations will lead to continuing fines of €15,000 per day for Ireland.

“The cost to date is in the region of €20 million and will mount rapidly, allied to the fact this is a loss making operation and has been for a substantial period demonstrates the economic illiteracy of the debate carried out at Galway County Council.”

The group has written to the European Commission outlining the long history of Galway County Council’s alleged failures, which have caused or contributed to the environmental degradation caused at Derrybrien by the wind farm.

The group claimed this has had ongoing effects on a European designated Special Protection Area and contributed significantly to the flooding of South County Galway over the years.

It stated a reference to soil stability at a recent council meeting was particularly ironic in view of the failure to carry out soil stability analysis before planning permission was granted.

It warned there was no legal basis for challenging the Bord Pleanála ruling and claimed the same councillors who complained that taking down the wind farm would cause environmental damage failed utterly to monitor and control its ongoing operations.

“In recent years, five-axle 200-tonne cranes have been brought into the sensitive environment of Derrybrien without the slightest concern being evinced by those councillors who participated in the recent debate.”

“Approximately 86 crane operations were required to repair and replace gearbox and generator systems on 55 of the turbines with 15 turbines requiring more than one repair or replacement system.

“Suggestions that approximately 50,000 homes are supplied on an ongoing basis with electricity from Derrybrien Wind Farm is misleading as it has struggled to operate at 24% of its capacity in recent years,” the group claimed.

On April 19 Independent Councillor Geraldine Donohue emailed An Taoiseach Micheál Martin requesting him to call a meeting between Members of Houses of the Oireachtas, European MEPS, Galway County Council, Derrybrien local community, ESB and Galway County Councillors to discuss this very unique situation at which Derrybrien had arrived.

Councillor Donohue offered to arrange such a meeting locally. The Independent Councillor confirmed she has received numerous calls from constituents who are seeking that the wind turbines in Derrybrien be turned back on given the energy crisis worldwide.

“I understand that Derrybrien Windfarm has the potential to serve approx 50,000 homes with green energy.”

Minister for Environment, Eamon Ryan TD met Galway county councillors recently. Councillor Donohue told Minister Ryan during his visit to Galway that Ireland would be the “laughing stock of the world if this decommissioning is allowed to go ahead”.

The Minister replied to Ms Donohue on the Derrybrien matter stating he wanted to keep it operating too, “especially with the shortage of electricity so why would we take out a renewal power point”.

He told the councillor he went to the Attorney General with a view to perhaps getting a derogation from Europe but the AG came back to him on May 5 stating there was no legal mechanism.

Stating the decommissioning must not be allowed to go ahead, the councillor asked the Minister, Departments and the European counterparts to come and visit the site out instead of a desktop audit.

In addition to securing full planning permission 19 years ago prior to construction, she said the wind farm has operated safely during its operation phase over the past 17 years and claimed what happened during the construction phase in 2003 “has now regenerated itself”.

She said she was deeply concerned with land slippage if decommissioning is granted given the tonnage of equipment on the site.

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