Council defies State recommendation on turbine distance from homes

“It is a no win position” - these were the stark words issued by county manager Barry Kehoe talking about windfarms and the Westmeath County Development Plan public meeting on Wednesday evening, September 18.

The county manager was urging caution as Westmeath county councillors considered the wording relating to windfarms in the draft plan which will come into effect in February 2014.

He also warned that changing the wording or portions of the draft plan “may have unseen complications” in the future.

The councillors were considering contentious portions relating to windfarms including putting industrial windfarms into cutaway bogs, the differences between industrial windfarms exporting energy to the UK, the likes of dairy farmers buying smaller 30m high turbines to save money on electricity, the setback distance from homes, the exact definition of cutaway bogs and the capacity maps, which are maps detailing specific areas’ potential for siting windfarms.

Mr Kehoe urged caution on every proposed amendment made by councillors, reminding them that the policy guidelines set out in the draft report had been drawn up in line with Government guidelines and with a wording that allowed the council to act and review.

A proposal to carry Variance 14, which was passed on Wednesday night, directing industrial windfarms strictly to cutaway bogs will cease to exist in February when the County Development Plan for 2014-2020 is adopted.

“I cannot recommend this amendment,” said Mr Kehoe, speaking about Cllr Penrose’s proposal to put in an amendment to the plan that would enforce a setback ratio of 10 times a turbine’s height from residential dwellings.

“It is too blunt an instrument to apply to something this complicated and will exclude a large part of the county - maybe all parts of the county,” he stated, adding that a 120 metre high turbine, which he described “as not that big”, would have to be placed 1.2km from the nearest house.

Athlone’s Cllr John Dolan told the public meeting that his neighbour had invested in a 30m turbine to use on his dairy farm in Kilbeggan. Cllr Penrose revised his proposal with the expressed intention that it would exclude smaller turbines bought by individuals for their own use from the setback ratio of 10 times the turbine height.

The new proposal that turbines of 100m or more be required to be set back from residences by a distance of 10 times the height of the turbine was passed.

The draft development plan already had in place that a development would be considered industrial when it was of a scale greater than five turbines or had a total output greater than 5 megawatts.

Industrial wind projects, such as the large scale windfarms built to export energy to the UK will be directed to cutaway bogs following a vote on the matter.

A large group from the IFA were present for the meeting. During the week they had been lobbying councillors to allow them the right to have windfarms developed on their land. The passing of Cllr Leonard’s proposal, directing industrial windfarms onto cutaway bogs took away their right to have windfarms developed on their land.

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