The residents’ association opposing the €20 million, nine-turbine wind farm in the Gaybrook area is targetting an appeal to An Bord Pleanála as the best way to halt what it calls “an unsuitable” development.
“This is almost 100 per cent guaranteed to go to An Bord Pleanála, and we want to save funds for that,” said Thomas Wallace, chair of the Midland Industrial Wind Turbine Action Group (MIWTAG ) at the meeting in Bloomfield on Monday night, where the crowd of about 50 local residents were reminded that the closing date for objections to Westmeath County Council was Wednesday.
A promise by Deputy Mary O’Rourke at the last meeting on August 11 to lead a deputation of protest to the county manager’s office could not be carried out after recently passed legislation blocked any executive interference between elected representatives and a county’s planning office for the first time in 50 years.
In January, a Cavan-based firm, Gaeltech Energy Developments Ltd (GED ) applied to Westmeath County Council to erect a dozen, 135m high, 2.5mW wind turbines. After 336 submissions from the public and a request for additional information on 32 points from the council, GED revised its plans and re-submitted them on July 20. A decision is due before September 14.
The new plan has reduced the number of turbines from 12 to nine, reduced the maximum height of four of the turbines to 125m, re-located the switchroom and anemometer nearly a kilometre to the south, and proposed running the subsequent electricity underground to the Mullingar sub-station in Irishtown.
In Gaybrook, each of the 2.5Mw turbines will cost about €2 million to install and generate in the region of €400,000 worth of electricity each year from 2013.
In line with the Kyoto agreement, Ireland is committed to provide 40 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in the next 10 years, up from only 8 per cent in 2005. The forecasted investment in this technology is expected to be in the region of €12 billio over that time.
MIWTAG committee member Emily Wallace believes “over 300 houses will be directly affected” by the proposed windfarm. There are 251 houses within one kilometre of a Gaybrook turbine and the nearest property to one will be 500m away.
“Basically it’s a Boeing and a half spinning in the air. That’s the reality of it,” she said, referring to the 100m wingspan of the turbine blades.
She went on to refer to WHO guidelines concerning loss of sleep and mentioned an ongoing Dutch university study on this subject.
Ms Wallace also claimed that “shadow flicker has the potential to induce photosensitive epilepsy seizures” but produced no evidence. She also told the meeting that Japan, the country with the most windfarms, declared a moratorium last year on building any more until their Department of Environment completed a four-year study into their effects.
Suggesting the turbines might adversely affect tourism in Westmeath, Ms Wallace pointed out the nearest turbine will be over four kilometers away from Lough Ennell, Belvedere, Bloomfield, and 3.7km from the golf club.
“People are being very complacent if they think they won’t be affected by these turbines. Get out your maps and see where they’re going and see what effects they’ll have on you and your family. Would you like to live beside these?”
An appeal to An Bord Pleanála will cost €220, from an individual who has already lodged a submission to the county council, and any further submissions will cost €50 and must be put in within four weeks of the decision. A request for an oral hearing,which an expert believes is “very likely in this case”, will cost €60.
So far, the MIWTAG has organised 374 objections, and has the support of 16 of the 17 councillors in the Kilbeggan, Mullingar East and West, and Coole electoral areas. It also collected a petition of 600 names in Mullingar over last weekend.