‘Open season’ for wind turbines, after ministerial direction, councillors say

It is now “open season” for wind turbine developers following a directive to Westmeath County Council to scrap a clause in its County Development Plan governing separation distance of turbines from houses.

The directive was issued by Mullingar minister, Peter Burke, on September 28 with immediate effect and the “matter is now closed”, members heard last week.

They declared the directive “a slap in the face” to them and to the thousands who had come out in protest at wind turbines, and a “dilution” of democracy.

Cllr Denis Leonard claimed that it was Minister Burke, then a member of the council, who moved a motion, along with himself, to put the separation distance clause into the County Development Plan in the first place, in the 2014-2020 one.

It demands that turbines must be 10 times the tip height distance from residences.

Cllr Leonard spoke of the need to look at other sources of renewable energy more suited to the flatlands of the midlands. He said wind energy was okay offshore or on cutaway bogs.

Cllr Vinny McCormack described the directive as “extremely disappointing”. He said the setback distances provided a “kind of a security blanket” that “we wouldn’t have these monstrosities located beside rural dwellings”.

This directive leaves many rural communities vulnerable, he said.

Cllr McCormack said the midlands were no more suited to wind energy than to wave energy, but were suited to solar farms and other forms of renewable energy.

Cllr Ken Glynn said councillors “have no role”, and the government are “inflicting this on Westmeath”. “What we say doesn’t matter, what the people say doesn’t matter,” he said, while Cllr Aoife Davitt wondered what other parts of their development plan might be deleted.

Cllr Johnnie Penrose said it is “open season” for developers now and claimed that they are going around “like vultures” in Milltown, Rathconrath and Ballynacargy. Farmers don’t know what they are signing up to, he added.

Cllr Louise Heavin proposed that the council seek a meeting with Minister Burke and with the Office of Public Works regulator.

She was seconded by Cllr Paul Hogan, who said this was “a slap in the face” to councillors and to the thousands of people who came out on the streets to declare that they did not want these “monstrosities” on their doorsteps.

Cllr Andrew Duncan suggested that Minister Burke would not have issued this directive by choice. He agreed that offshore and cutaway bogs are the place for wind turbines.

Cllr Bill Collentine said it would be wrong to spoil the scenic lake district with wind turbines. Solar farms would have less impact on the area and on tourism. We have to listen to the people, he said.

The cathaoirleach, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, said that a diktat from the government left him feeling uneasy, insulted and undermined.

Barry Kehoe, council director of service, said there is no progress by which the members can appeal this directive. The plan will be up for review in 2025. He said that applications for renewable energy projects, particularly solar, are generally approved by the council, and some have issued in the recent past, but none has been built yet.

Cllr Leonard said that in addition to seeking a meeting with the minister and regulator, the council should outline that they are not happy with the decision and ask that it be “revisited as a matter of urgency”. He was seconded by Cllr Glynn.