'Evil and divisive': Wind turbines 'ripping Kerry apart'

A wind turbine at Beal Hill outside Ballybunion.

Communities in the south-west are being ripped apart by the march of wind turbines into townlands, but a local authority says its hands are tied due to lack of firm legislation.

Guidelines for planners on wind energy were promised 18 months ago by separate government departments.

A planning official in Kerry County Council said 317 turbines had already been built in Kerry and a further 38 are under construction.

Damien Ginty, acting senior planner, said 10 others are awaiting decisions from An Bord Pleanála and eight are being judicially reviewed.

He told county councillors the local authority had been placed in a “very difficult position” due to the absence of updated guidelines from 2006, and other regulations such as the distance between a turbine and a family home.

The county has among the highest number of wind farms in the country, along with Cork and Donegal.

Killarney-based Independent Alliance councillor Michael Gleeson warned that the subtle effect of wind farms is “evil and divisive” and dividing communities.

Initially, wind farms had 50m-high turbines confined to upland areas but some turbines being installed in Kerry are “monstrosities” reaching up to 150m high. Some are now based in low-lying areas.

A community in east Kerry is trying to raise €120,000 for a court action to halt what is described as “monstrous” turbines eating further into the heart of Sliabh Luachra villages.

Kerry County Council had refused planning by Silverbirch Renewables, a company based in Tralee, deciding a windfarm would seriously injure the life of communities. An Bord Pleanála upheld an appeal and approved planning.

“What’s happening at the moment is totally unacceptable,” said Fianna Fáil councillor John Joe Culloty.

“Our legislators should be ashamed it has taken so long. It was to be the first quarter of 2018 for guidelines, now it is sometime in 2019,” he said, noting there are turbines now in areas like Gneeveguilla.

“People were granted planning for their homes. The quality of their lives is being put at risk now.”

Mr Culloty described as outrageous that An Bord Pleanála felt it was beyond its remit to consider the health implications of “giant turbines” in Sliabh Luachra.

The scenic value of Kerry, which depends on tourism, is being destroyed, said Fianna Fáil councillor Pa Daly.

“If you want to build a school or a house it has to be set into the landscape, but that’s not the case with wind turbines,” he said.

Existing local guidelines also came under fire. The flat, coastal villages of north Kerry had been designated for wind energy in the county development plan, despite their tourism potential.

“I have long supported green energy. But north Kerry has become a wasteland because of them. The place is saturated,” said Sinn Féin councillor Robert Beasley.

In August 2017, local authorities had been asked by government departments to defer updating county development plans as far as wind energy was concerned.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government said yesterday it is undertaking a focused review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines.

“It is expected that a public consultation on the revised draft guidelines, together with the comprehensive environmental report under the SEA (strategic environment assessment) process, will be commenced in early 2019,” he said.

The aim is to issue finalised guidelines in mid-2019, following analysis and consideration of submissions and views received from a consultation phase, said the spokesman.

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