Derrybrien Windfarm debacle could now cost us well over €4 million and rising

If this penalty application gets through in December – the Irish Government will have to pay over €4,168,000 into the ‘European Union own resources’ account and then continue to pay €10,000 per day thereafter.

From a previous article, Derrybrien Windfarm – Government and ESB treating us like fools,  we highlighted that the Irish Government was treating us like fool as European fines were mounting up on a daily basis – The situation looks a lot worse!

Here is the story so far: (In short)

  • In 2003, The Derrybrien Windfarm Developers (ESB – 95% owned by Irish Government)  didn’t do a proper Environment Impact Analysis for their development and proceeded with development and caused a massive landslide
  • In 2008 : After analysis the European Courts ruled against Ireland with a court order to reassess the Environmental Impacts and put in proper mitigation in place.
  • In 2008, the Irish authorities informed the Commission that the wind farm operator  (ESB) had agreed to provide an updated environmental impact assessment
  • In Jan 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a statement which indicated that Ireland would face fines of over €2m.  The court stated that even at this late stage, a full EIA must be conducted, which must include full consultation with residents, industry and other relevant stakeholders.
  • In April 2019, a That leads up to last Monday when the CJEU met in Luxembourg on the case. The full contingent of Judges (15) were there to listen to Ireland’s progress since January last year – it wasn’t great and the Irish Government was harshly critizied as it had not acted to implement the earlier judgment and there was quite some disbelief that Ireland could/would not act more decisively against a 95% state owned company. (ESB)
  • On 13 June 2019 an Application for an order to pay a penalty payment and a lump sum)  was proposed by the Advocate General to the Court and the picture is a lot starker.

Irish Government Response (or lack thereof)

Before we dive into the money – an interesting point to consider is that Richard Bruton Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is also responsible the the ESB (well 95% responsible anyway) and obviously responsible for the Environment – so – this should have been easy as the buck stopped there.  After the April 2019 Judgement, frustrated by Government in-action I compiled a set of questions that I wanted the get answers to:

  • What progress has been made over the past 11 year and specifically, what actual progress has made in the past year, since the EU indicated potential fines of €2Million and 12K/day thereafter?  
  • Why does Ireland seem unprepared and unprofessional in this. (To quote an EU environment enforcement officer ” There was quite some disbelief that IE could/would not act more decisively against a 95% state owned company. ” What is causing this delay?
  • As its likely that we will now receive harsh fines – Who will be footing this bill? Will this be the ESB or the Irish Government?
  • What are the Governments plans to rectify this and when will this happen?

In order to get clarity I asked our local Fianna Fail TD, Deputy Anne Rabbitte to help get some clarification here and I asked her to frame some Parliamentary questions about this to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.  This she did and this was the response from the Ceann Comhairle 

“I regret to inform you that I have to disallow the (questions) … The Minister has no official responsibilities to Dail Eireann for this matter and is a matter for the ESB which is independent in its functions.”

parlimentaryQuestions

We are not allowed to ask questions about a potential large penalty to be imposed on the Irish Government by the European Court of Justice on an environmental infringement.  We are told we have to leave it to the ESB, a company 95% owned by the Irish Government, who promised to carry out an Environmental Impact assessment over 11 years ago because it is independent in its functions.

I can see how the European Court of Justice as critical of Irish Government governance = tail wagging dog

 

 

Potential Penalties

This is only an application and the final judgement will be given in a few months time, likely be the end of the year.  This application has proposed

  • A lump-sum fine calculated at a rate of €1000/day from the date of the Court Order to the date of final judgement
  • A daily penalty of €10,000/day from the date of final judgement until the matter is fully resolved.

This isn’t news (we have always known) that this was coming down the road – ESB could have avoided this – The Irish Government could have avoided this by just doing the EIA.

If we say the final judgement will be 1st December 2019. That’s exactly 4168 days since the Court Order. (3rd July 2008)

If this penalty application gets through in December – the Irish Government will have to pay over €4,168,000 into the ‘European Union own resources’ account and then continue to pay €10,000 per day thereafter.

Note :  This amount is 3 times the normal amount we should be paying because of the lack of response – Ireland got the maximum multiplier factor of 3 for this.

How does this relate to flooding in South Galway?

The original EIA of the wind-farm indicated that there would be no additional drainage on the 4sq KM site on the main Slieve Aughty Peak.  After the landslide happened the developers put in place a ‘Robust-Drainage‘ Scheme, which involved digging 6ft x 8ft drains from each of the 71 turbine bases .  Overall, the drainage of the site was impacted by:

  • 200 Hectares of forest was clear-felled
  • Over 30 km+ of drains were dug
  • Over 17km of roads were constructed
  • 71 turbine bases were dug out and  constructed

With no impact assessment – how knows the effect the wind-farm has on the drainage but if you now consider this picture you can see why Derrybrien, Gort and South Galway communities should be concerned.

derrybrien_rivers_gort.JPG

The severe flooding in Gort in 2009 was from the Gort River which comes down from this area.

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee want the same thing as Europe here – a proper assessment on the impacts of mountain operations in this area and retrospective mitigation to ensure that potential flooding impacts from the wind-farm are mitigated in some way.

The real frustration here is that rather than than investing in flood mitigation ware are throwing away money having to pay these penalties because organizations that could be contributing to the flooding won’t do the proper assessments and the Irish Government is standing idly by as money pours down the drain  – Meanwhile the South Galway Flood Relief project has a risk of not progressing because it could be deemed to be too costly

This is something that we need to get vocal about as this is our money we are wasting and our flooding solution that could be in crisis.  Please share!

Thanks,

-David Murray

 

 

For more information on the Derrybrien Windfarm Saga :

 

Notes:

  • There are other groups in South Galway are affected by the Windfarm landslide also. This has not been touch up under the South Galway Floods Blog.

 

South Galway Flood Relief Scheme : Update – June 2019

We are entering in a critical decision-making phase of the project as Hydrology model is complete and feasibility is well under way

It’s that time of the year when thoughts of flooding are far from people’s minds – but we will soon be reaching a critical phase of the project and we need to keep a close eye on this as we hit our first gating point of the project.

The next 6 months will include critical decision-making as the Hydrology model is complete and feasibility is well under way – targeting Project Approval by end of this year – but there are still risks that the project will not be approved.

The current feasibility study is over 1 year behind and we should not tolerate any more slippage.  South Galway communities cannot tolerate more project delays and spill the approval into 2020

South_galway_flooding_solution_timeline_q22019

From talking to GCC recently the hydrology model is being used extensively to assess flooding scenarios and look at effects and impacts of different mitigation strategies – so we are now in a more predictable stage of the project and it will take another few months to converge on a preferred solution.  The models are being run by Trinity College Dublin (Who have developed the model) based on sized channels provided by Ryan Hanley – the Design consultants. This is an iterative process as tweaks are made to channel sizes, culvert sizes etc.   TCD will also be involved in completing Climate Change analysis and assisting in salinity analysis.  Once a solution has emerged then there are several reports to produce (as outlined in the project brief)

  • Hydrology Report
  • Flood Risk Management Plan
  • Feasibility Report
  • Final Report (Cost-Benefit-Analysis, EIAR, Recommendations)

This is a rough picture of the timeline for 2019.

timelime_zoom

There are a significant amounts of information to compile and this should be done by Mid-November 2019 after which it moves into an approvals stage and we should have decision on Feasibility of the project by end if 2019.   It is important that Galway County council keep to this schedule.

There are also many approvals required for these reports – something that if not planned  correctly could run into months. This process involves our Design Consultants (Ryan Hanley) ,our Environment consultants (Mott MacDonald), Trinity College Dublin, and the project Steering board (including the OPW) and need to be managed properly by Galway County Council,

Dead in the water?

If people remember back to the infamous  2010-2011 ‘South Galway Flood Study Report‘ by Jennings – O’ Donovan, within which they deemed the project as ‘infeasible‘ and along with it – flood relief measures were canned. This was mainly a cost-benefit issue where they tagged a €45 million cost to the project – without working out any clear benefit.

At the same time – the Tarmon Flood relief proposal did not proceed because of Environmental Issues

So aside from risk of delays, we face these same risks at the moment as the potential project killers are Cost-Benefit issues and environmental issues.

The cost-benefit is being worked out by using the hydrology model along with Rainfall events.  We are really hoping that the real impacts and frequency of these flooding events will be reflected in the benefit.

The Benefit will not be calculated from past flooding but from predicted future flooding and will include climate-change modelling – which should give us a potentially larger benefit

If the benefit is less then the cost then the project will be deemed financially infeasible and not proceed.  In order for it to proceed – this will require Ministerial intervention which has been promised to us in the past. Will these commitments be honored in this case?

Also another key issue is around the Environmental Constraints that have been identified by Environmental Consultants:

    • Limestone Shelf in Ballinastaig
    • Habitat in Caherglassaun SAC
    • Kinvara Bay

The solution will need to consider these aspects thoroughly and ensure there is minimal impact.

Team Alignment

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee (SGFRC) invited our new elected County Councillors to an update/alignment meeting on Wednesday 5th June in Sullivan’s Hotel to indicate where we were in the project timeline and to highlight concerns on the Flood Relief project. The meeting was attended by Cllr Joe Byrne, Cllr Geraldine Donohue and Cllr. P.J. Murphy and several members of the SGFRC. (Apologies were sent from Cllr Kinane who could not attend). Cllr Finnerty turned up as the meeting was ending.

Councillors

Our first item was of course to congratulate our Councillors on their positive election outcome.

We went through the current status and timeline of the project and did highlight that we are moving into a more predictable phase of the project. We also highlighted that we felt there was a strong feeling of an overall project team that were working diligently and collaboratively towards solving the frequent flooding crisis.

That been said, there are real concerns and the key asks from SGFRC is that we need to keep on top of this project going forward:

  • Focus on delivery, delivery, delivery
  • Manage the risks properly
  • Communicate delays and mitigations

Cllr. Joe Byrne is well up to speed on the South Galway Flooding situation and new Councillors Geraldine Donohue and P.J Murphy both indicated this was one of the major topics for many people that they met when canvassing.  They are quickly coming up to speed on this project and the current situation and we look forward to their input and drive on this.

The SGFRC also would like our County Councillors to work as a team and be very proactive on this. At Galway County Council Monthly municipal meeting there is an standing agenda item on South Galway Flooding Project status. There is an opportunity in this monthly meeting to get clarity on current situation and also call for actions to ensure we keep to our project delivery.

This was received positively by our Councillors and we see how they put this into actin.

In the near future the SGFRC will also aim to refresh support and commitments given at Ministerial level to ensure that this project can progress through the feasibility stage.

So, while the sun is shining and we approach the longest day of the year – the flooding situation can sometimes be forgotten. However it is very important for us to be diligent now to ensure that we get this feasibility complete and project approval as soon as possible.   I would ask that even as we approach the height of our summer, please continue to give your support to this situation that will return to haunt our community during the next few winters.

David Murray

Chair, South Galway Flood Relief Committee