On 16th March 2022, the ESB has confirmed that, after a refusal by An Bord Pleánala to get substitute consent planning, they will be decommissioning the windfarm at Derrybrien. The impact of this has sent a shock wave across the ‘green planning’ sector and has left a lot of people outraged at the waste and their growing ESB Bills. The South Galway Flood relief committee is asking for those accountable to be held responsible for this unmitigated disaster.
It should never have gotten to this!
Many people have expressed the opinion about can’t we just leave them up but that ship sailed a long time ago. An Bord Pleanala rejected an application by the ESB for substitute consent, effectively removing any remaining avenue the ESB could use to avoid the Windfarm being tagged as an ‘Unauthorized development’.
Since the first diggers tore into the mountain high-ground in 2003, it became an unauthorized development. When the subsequent landslide happened in October that year, it should have been stopped. They shouldn’t have dug tens of kilometres of new drains (some 2-3m wide and 2-3m deep) , again unauthorised. The ESB refused, point-blank, to engage in any progressive way with local community concerns from Derrybrien Action group and the South Galway Flood Relief Committee.
The extraordinary fines of €17,845,779 (as of this morning) , due to ESB’s delaying tactics, the loss of ESB generation for the lifetime of the Windfarm (est €50+ million), the environmental disaster, all rest 100% on the shoulders of the ESB Executive team.
If the ESB had engaged and addressed concerns, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Windfarms have a typical lifespan for 20 years but that can be extended by another few years. This would mean that the decommissioning would be happening anyway from 2025 onward. However the ESB in its substitute consent application indicated a timeframe of 2040, so may have had other things in mind including re-powering the windfarm. This means the ESB will incur significant losses of earnings by early decommissioning.
This judgement by an Bord Pleanala though harsh will save communities in the long run as it clarifies what can be at stake by taking shortcuts. This should be a wakeup call to any ‘Green Projects’ including Windfarms, forestry, Biogas plants and solar farms.
Paying the Price
I’ve stated before that there are no winners in this scenario- but, I might be wrong here. I have a suspicion that the ESB Executive team might be in fact the winners in this, while the rest of us are paying the price.
The South Galway communities have paid the price (and continue to pay the price) of the impact on the windfarm. In July last year the ESB put up notices effectively halting local turf cutting on the mountain due to peat instability – another slap in the face, without any notice/consultation.
The lowering of water tables and extensive draining continues to increase the flood risk for South Galway. It’s not just the communities that have paid the price, the environment has also paid a heavy price with the landslide destroying water life throughout the catchment and increasing the silting in the underground networks.
The Irish taxpayer (you and me) is also paying a price – We will be forking out close to €20 million in EU fines, and the additionalcost of early decommissioning (~€10 million loss/year), consultants fees, resolution of Turbary rights, we could be talking about a total of taxpayer bill of well over €70 million.
When the EU slammed a court order on Ireland in 2012, the then ESB Boss, Padraig McManus, took home €700,000 in pay that year. While wages were attempted to be capped , the ESB still has some of the highest paid execs in the public service, with massive bonuses. So, I suspect that for the past 2-3 years , while the EU Fines have increased, the ESB executives have enjoyed substantially big bonuses. In the meantime our ESB Bills have been rising and are now the highest in Europe.
Therefore based on the continued impact on our communities, the significant cost to the taxpayer, the incredible damage to the ESB’s reputation, we are calling for the resignation of ESB Chief Executives, Paddy Hayes and Deputy Chief Executive Jerry O’ Sullivan.
The ESB Executive team are fully accountable and must take responsibility here – they simply can’t remain the winners in this scenario.
David Murray, Chair, South Galway Flood Relief Committee
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