Nigel de Haas is a farmer and recently retired engineer. He has found his hilltop farm surrounded by a number of proposed new wind developments.
He has serious criticisms of our planning process and of the way in which wind is being rushed through as a stop-gap to deal with climate change. He says that companies are masking the size of their developments as well as using their power to railroad wind farms through the planning process.
Some of Nigel's neighbours had a victory in the High Court against a wind farm earlier this year. The judge quashed an application by Framore Ltd and local objectors rejoiced, only to find that a second, very similar application had been submitted in the meantime. Now they must admit defeat, or go through everything again.
In Nigel's locality, numerous wind developments have been granted permission. From Macroom to Millstreet and back around by Gougane Barra, to Kealkill, Dunmanway and Lissarda, a large ring of wind farms is planned. Other parts of the country have similar situations.
One of the major problems is that wind farm companies are not honest with the public about the scale of what they are planning. A planning application for, say, six turbines might not seem so bad, but the company could come back in a few years and apply for six more on the same site.
Nigel says: “What I've seen in numerous planning applications is that there's always an Environment Impact Statement that has to be produced and it's common practise to say that 'the precedent for this development in this area has already been established'.
“The planning applications for this area are for a total of 39 turbines, but [...] I think ultimately there'll be 80-90 turbines involved in this [development]. Coillte are madly trying to get into wind now and there are lots of developments planned on Coillte land.”
In this part of west Cork many companies applying for wind farms turn out to have the same owners and directors. They're using separate planning applications for each wind farm, without admitting to the fact that it's a large project.
Michael Murnane of Macroom Co Cork holds 62 company directorships. The majority of those companies are developing wind farms. Murnane's companies are submitting separate and sometimes multiple applications for lots of small projects all in counties Clare, Cork and Kerry. His approach has bamboozled local residents who are confused by the many company names and applications. Legal language makes it hard to understand what is being proposed, while multiple applications are granted with no consideration of their cumulative impact.
As a result Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submissions aren't really reflecting the scale of what's going on. That's something that Kevin Corcoran took to the European Petitions Commission and they took it very seriously.
Nigel de Haas agrees: “They did take it very seriously but unfortunately the planners neither at county level nor an Bord Pleannala level take it very seriously at all.”
Nigel thinks that the substance of his arguments was not given due credit by the planning authorities. “An Bord Pleanala (ABP) have an awful lot of power. They wouldn't give us an oral hearing. I've probably got 500 pages between my objection and my appeal. It's a hell of a lot of work. Nobody puts any meas on it all. It's purely the fact thirty people objected [that they find important] but what was in the objections is irrelevant.”
Nigel said that his technical expertise as a calibration consultant was no help to his submission:
“The fact that I'd actually argued a cogent case was irrelevant. In my appeal I put in the full details.
If what they had done up here had been done in Irish Distillers or somewhere like that, they'd be closed down on not meeting the standards for calibration because the equipment is not validly calibrate, the measurements are not valid. Therefore the noise measurements are not valid and I mean I argued the case in detail, twenty pages of it, all the evidence, everything all the way through.”
“So I have absolutely zero confidence [in the planning process], absolutely none at all. But on the other hand, we still have a democracy, we can still shout about it.”
The issue of calibration was only one of the faults Nigel found:“I think I had 37 points in the observation. In my appeal I hit them on project-splitting, defective background noise study, contamination of freshwater pearl mussel catchments in the Bandon river SAC, the safety of residents and forestry workers, archaeology and impact on ecology and human health. It was a lot of work.”
Nigel is at pains to point out that he has never been against the use of wind power. His objections stem from the way in which the planning system has been found wanting in how it deals with these applications. We return to the reason why all these wind turbines are being built in the first place. Nigel offers his view:
“At the end of the day the world's best brains are saying to us that anthropogenic (man-made) activity is going to cause temperature rise, and we've got to stop it. So let's say fine, how do we stop it? The wind turbines are almost rather a sideshow on this stuff. To me anyway the important thing is that all of us, every one of us in our everyday lives, should be trying to figure out, how are we going to, on a personal basis, reduce emissions and on a bigger basis, how can we influence our neighbours and everybody else to do the same, for the betterment of everybody.
“This is my personal view. If you take the other side of the coin, we've had a government that said in the past, and subsequent governments have just reinforced the idea, 'well we're actually not really gonna look at the issue […] we're just gonna go for wind turbines, because they're real easy, and they're packages, we can buy them from Denmark or from Germany and developers who finance the Party funds can put these things up, and whether or not they do any good [for] reducing CO2 levels in the environment is irrelevant because we can say, 'we've got renewable energy'.'”
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