The ESB Is once again under the spotlight as the Derrybrien Windfarm resolution has been dealt another blow in the past week. As fines have passed the €15 million mark and a recent independent EC report has found that the long promised ESBs remedial environmental Impact assessment (rEIAR) lacking, and in some cases questions if the rEIAR is itself fit for purpose.
The report recommends that ‘further information is provided before the consenting authority (An Bord Pleanála) can make an informed decision’ . This could signal some more serious and costly delays in the resolution of this matter.
- 2003 : The Derrybrien wind farm was regarded as one of the largest in the EU when a landslide occurred during its construction in October 2003 by an ESB subsidiary, Hibernian Wind Power.
- In 2008, the EU’s Court of Justice criticised the State and ordered that the situation be addressed. It found Ireland had failed to properly assess the environmental effects the development would have on the locality. But despite the ruling, no action was taken to rectify the situation.
- In 2019, almost after 11 years, Ireland was €5 million for failing to carry out an EU court-ordered environmental impact assessment on a 70-turbine windfarm at Derrybrien, Co Galway with an additional €15,000 daily fine.
- In August 2020, after 11 years of stalemate, the ESB/Gort Windfarms released a remedial )Environment Impact Assessment Report (rEIAR) (2640 Pages) and an Natura Impact Assessment (288 pages)
This report was assessed by local groups and individuals and in the past few weeks the European Commission release a report they commissioned from ARCADIS, consulting firm. The overall objective of the EC Technical assessment has been to assess if the ESB’s EIA remedial process has fairly assessed the key impacts over time and addressed appropriately the need for remediation and compensation measures.
Technical Assessment findings
The technical assessment conclusions state :
“Based on the technical review of the rEIAR against the requirements of the EIA Directive, it is recommended that further information is provided before the consenting authority can make an informed decision on this application. “
While the rEIAR is very comprehensive, there are some key detractors.
- It is not satisfied with the decommissioning aspects of the windfarm and in particular the management of all demolition waste is a major omission and renders the rEIAR non-compliant with the EIA Directive.
- Although the rEIAR references the most up to date best practice guidance, a scoping process was not undertaken which is considered to be a very important best practice activity to ensure that the assessment addresses all the key issues with agreement from statutory consultees. The lack of a scoping process is evident in the complaints from statutory consultees such as the South Galway Flood Relief Committee
- The consideration of alternatives largely meets the requirements of the EIA Directive, its usefulness to decision makers is questionable and full consideration of reasonable alternatives during decommissioning has not been covered sufficiently.
- There are inadequacies in the following key areas that invalidate the conclusions of some assessments:
- Population and Human Health
- Terrestrial Biodiversity
- Landscape and Visual
- Traffic and Transport
- Soils, Land and Geology
- Material Assets
- Interaction of Impacts assessments.
- The rEIAR excludes cumulative tree felling impacts stating that “only the impact of felling associated with the wind farm project was considered and any other felling carried out in the area during construction and following commissioning is beyond the study scope”. Given that the project involved the felling of 222ha of forest, this is considered to be a major omission from the assessment.
- Given that construction is complete, decommissioning should be a key focus of the rEIAR, however, the conclusions that the assessments come to regarding adverse effects during and after decommissioning are not sufficiently evidenced.
- The Soils, Land and Geology and the Major Hazards and Accidents chapters provide no evidence to demonstrate that the decommissioning phase would not increase the risk of a further peat slide.
- The rEIAR adequately describes the emergency mitigation undertaken following the peat slide. However, the mitigation proposed during operation and decommissioning are in some cases inadequate and lack evidence to demonstrate their efficacy.
The EC assessment indicates that with the exception of the omission of an assessment of the likely significant effects of the project on the environment resulting from the disposal of waste, the rEIAR is generally in accordance with the requirements of the EIA Directive. However, inadequacies have been identified within the assessments which lead to uncertainty around the validity of the conclusions and the suitability and effectiveness of proposed mitigation.
Reaction and Analysis
This is playing like a broken record that every time it skips, the Irish taxpayer has to fork out another €5-10 million in fines. In a meeting in Brussels in February 2017, the EC asked the SGFRC to reach out to the Windfarm developer/operator (ESB) to highlight our concerns regarding increasing flooding and silting in South Galway. We wrote the ESB a letter in April 2017, highlighting our concerns and attempted to engage in this remedial process.
The ESB stonewalled us and other South Galway stakeholders , essentially locking themselves in their ivory tower while they composed their rEIAR on ‘our’ potential impacts whilst ‘touting’ that had a robust public participation. There wasn’t a sliver of willingness to engagement – at this stage we think it’s a cultural thing in the ESB – it’s complete arrogance.
This lack of engagement was picked up by the EC Technical assessment.
The South Galway Flood Relief Committee submitted a complaint to the EC detailing how they attempted to contribute to the rEIAR but were ignored by the developer. The only communication they received in response to the letter sent to the developer in April 2017 was in a notice on 2 September (2020) stating that a rEIAR has been submitted to An Bord Pleanala.Technical Assessment of Derrybrien Windfarm and Ancillary works
In our own analysis of the rEIAR, we highlighted some key items ‘missed’ in the EIAR that were submitted in 2017 letter. Notably the ESB thought that the nearest downstream flooding area from the windfarm was Gort (20km) and had no mention of Dereen and Beagh (consider what happened to Hughie O’ Donnell’s house!)
And now unsurprisingly, the EC technical assessment has indicated that ‘Considering the issues raised by the South Galway Flood Relief Committee, …some conclusions of the hydrology and hydrogeology assessment cannot be considered reasonable. ‘
There was an opportunity to engage on this 3 years ago, concerns had been outlined by the SGFRC, based on EC recommendations, but this was completely ignored by the ESB, so now the EC’s technical assessment is stating the obvious – The ESB needed to address community concerns!.
By ignoring that simple (and best-practice) rule, the ESB has just cost you, the Irish Taxpayer, probably €10 million in fines.
Dammed If you do …
It would seem that An Board Pleanála have 2 choices now. They can either grant consent but given the conclusions in this independent assessment, it’s highly unlikely that the EC will give this process the green light and remove the fine. We could then be back to square one in what could be a long drawn out process (years) on which a €15,000 daily fine is ticking so it could be tens of millions of Euro.
The other scenario is that An Board Pleanála refuses consent based on the observations of relevant stakeholders and the EC technical assessment and the process is restarted to create a more objective rEIAR.
Sometimes failing early is the better option and the ESB management must forgo their wounded pride and arrogance and do the right thing, the thing that they were asked to do many years ago – produce an objective and inclusive EIAR.
An Bord Pleanála are also not without scrutiny as within the chaos of this controversial development they overturned Galway County Councils planning permission refusal for some aspects of the Windfarm development. However, by providing an independent technical assessment the EC has become a formidable chaperone of inappropriate ESB-An Bord Pleanála intimacies.
It will be interesting to see if An Bord Pleanála will have the objectivity that is required in this process but it’s hard to see how An Bord Pleanála can now grant consent after both local and EC technical assessments highlighted some major discrepancies in the rEIAR.
ESB senior Management need some pretty brutal scrutiny here for allowing this situation to deteriorate – trying to save themselves face as our significant cost. The public and our public representatives need to demand some accountability here -otherwise it’s the semi-state ESB tail that’s wagging the Governmental dog.
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