Ireland fined €5m plus daily penalty of €15,000 over landslides at Galway wind farm
The fine relates to an incident which saw 50,000 fish killed in 2003.
November 12, 2019
THE EU’S COURT of Justice has fined the State €5m over its failure to comply with EU legislation that might have prevented landslides linked to the construction of a wind farm in the west of Ireland in 2003.
The penalty is set to increase further as EU’s top court set an additional daily fine of €15,000 until the Government achieves compliance with environmental legislation on assessing the impact of the wind farm Derrybrien, Co Galway.
The fine is due to the “seriousness and duration” of the failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment on the wind farm in the 11 years since a previous CJEU ruling on 3 July, 2008.
The legal action by the European Commission followed a massive landslide at Derrybrien on 16 October, 2003, when tonnes of peat were dislodged and polluted the Owendalulleegh River, resulting in the death of around 50,000 fish.
At the time Derrybrien was the country’s biggest-ever wind farm, and one of the largest in Europe, with 70 turbines. Its construction required the removal of large areas of forest and the extraction of peat up to a depth of 5.5 metres.
The European Commission said two investigations had concluded that the environmental disaster had been linked to the construction work on the wind farm.
On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby:
1. Declares that, by failing to take all measures necessary to comply with the judgment of 3 July 2008, Commission v Ireland (C‑215/06, EU:C:2008:380), Ireland has failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 260(1) TFEU;
2. Orders Ireland to pay the European Commission a lump sum in the amount of EUR 5 000 000;
3. Orders Ireland to pay the Commission a periodic penalty payment of EUR 15 000 per day from the date of delivery of the present judgment until the date of compliance with the judgment of 3 July 2008, Commission v Ireland (C‑215/06, EU:C:2008:380);
~What happens when decisions concerning build out of electricity generation infrastructure has already been decided and public consultation done just for show?
~What happens when new extensions of the grid appear linked to facilitate the rapid and contested build of industrial wind turbines while ignoring cumulative environmental impacts?
Members of the RTS Substation Action Group in Ireland are taking action to protect their communities and have exposed the involvement of EirGrid. A huge substation is planned capable of accepting multiple wind facilities to the Irish electrical grid. A substation that if built could impact clean drinking water for well over 8 000.
Ratheniska residents are claiming that they have exposed Eirgrid’s litany of failures and systematic corporate sharp practice.
The Ratheniska, Timahoe, Spink (RTS) Action Group, when briefing Minister Denis Naughten, made a number of extremely serious allegations, which they backed up with a dossier of painstakingly accumulated evidence: 20170118 – Presentation to Ministers-For Issue
Aside from the long standing issues of site unsuitability, water source destruction and planning process corruption, the RTS Action Group claimed to have unearthed very serious transgressions by Eirgrid’s board of the code of practice for semi state bodies.
The evidence indicated that EirGrid had created “a short cut on the board“. RTS Action Group explained that four members on the EirGrid Board had formed a “sub-board” and were “filtering information going to the board where they are now rubber stamping projects and funding on the basis of recommendation by this four member sub – board.”
If these allegations prove to be true, and the RTS Action Group are adamant that they are, then this constitutes an extremely serious breach of the code of practice, which should lead to a mass resignation of the EirGrid Board of Directors.
In a statement released after the meeting with the Minister, the RTS Group said:
“The RTS Group believe that Minister Naughten, who was accompanied to meet the delegation by his Cabinet colleague and local TD, Charlie Flanagan, had his eyes opened and was astonished by the import, nature, scope, scale and seriousness of the information being placed before him, for the first time.
This meeting arose from a promise made last June in the Dáil by Minister Naughten to visit the site of Eirgrid’s “unauthorised development” and the community who alerted the authorities to Eirgrid’s illegal building activities.
Our greatest concern is that the construction of Eirgrid’s unnecessary energy hub project will destroy and pollute the very necessary and only source of clean water for not just this community but for 8,000 Laois people. All of the evidence of how Eirgrid have conducted themselves up to now points to this eventuality, and we just can’t allow that to happen.
The political fallout from this semi-state operating with such a cavalier attitude to planning law, sustainable development, professional best practice, and corporate responsibility was that all three local TD’s and all Laois County Councillors were unanimous in calling for Eirgrid to cease the development.
We set out some of the evidence for the Ministers as to how Eirgrid have been deliberately deceiving us, the planning authorities, the other arms of state, and even the Dáil from the very outset of this ill-conceived project. This is not due to a few mistakes, or a few individuals making errors, but systematic deception through every phase of this development from its inception to illegal commencement. This evidence has been collected through in depth research and forensic examination. The community could not rely on what Eirgrid were telling us in the public domain throughout their sham consultation process. This damning dossier has been given to Minister Naughten, who as line Minister is ultimately responsible for Eirgrid, their conduct and corporate transparency and accountability.
The buck stops with him. He is now in full knowledge of the scale and scope of Eirgrid’s deception and disgraceful behaviour, we expect the Minister to reel Eirgrid in, to finally make them accountable for their actions on site and in their boardroom. He must move to scrap the project. On foot of today’s new revelations it is incumbent on the Minster to act, act promptly and decisively”.
The last word goes to the current Minister of Justice, who made the following statement after being briefed by the RTS Group:
“There has been a clear breach of law. The breach is sufficiently serious to abandon the project. I don’t believe there is any way back for EirGrid. They should pack up their machinery and should not come back.”
On foot of a number of complaints from the public of noise nuisance from wind farms in north Wexford, Wexford Co Co commissioned RPS Engineering in early 2016 to carry out an in-depth, extensive noise survey of the sound emitting from adjacent wind farms and their wind turbines.
Map of the four wind turbines and the position of the individual turbines
The scope of noise survey carried out, exceeded the requirements of the DEHLG noise guidance for wind farms and the requirements of most countries with well developed wind legislation. It involved inter-alia the continuous simultaneous acoustic monitoring at 4 wind farm sites, and eventually involved 13 noise meters being simultaneously deployed. In addition to noise meters a number of rain gauges and 10 metre high wind speed masts were also utilised to gather weather data.
The extended duration of this noise survey, 8 weeks at 8 sites and over 6 months at 3 sites, and the wide extent of noise parameter measurements and meteorological parameters carried out, ensured that account was made of practically all environmental and meteorological conditions experienced at the sites during the noise survey, such as differing wind speeds, directions, air temperature and particular meteorological conditions as experienced at the sites. This included the measurement of noise during periods of winter time cold temperatures with little or no wind (temperature inversions) so as to measure the noise impact during possible worst case scenarios.
Noise Survey Parameters
The survey required the following measurements to be carried out at the 13 measurement sites,
All of 1 and 2 above to be carried out at Fast time weighing,
1/3 Octave measurements from 6 Hz to 20 KHz,
Narrow Band Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) analysis extending from 0 Hz to 200 Hz,
Analysis for amplitude modulation,
Both 5 and 6 analysis above are to be carried out at one or two measurement sites at each wind farm for a minimum period of 2 hours, during the noise survey with environmental conditions suspected to result in tonal elements or amplitude modulation,
Wind speed and direction at 10 metres is to be recorded during the survey,
Rainfall occurrences, time and date and amounts and at each wind farm are to be recorded,
Audio was also recorded at each site at a number of occasions at a sufficient sampling and bit rate to allow further analysis, eg FFT and amplitude modulation.
This study also includes an assessment report for each wind farm addressing their compliance regarding noise emissions under the following headings:
Compliance with planning conditions on the Wind Farms being tested and or predicted sound levels at noise sensitive locations as per the planning application submitted EIS,
Compliance with the Dept of Environment, Community and Local Government, Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006, in so far as they relate to noise standards,
Comment on the sound with regard to noise standards in
– UK and other countries with well developed wind energy infrastructure and regulations
– WHO noise limits for night-time noise
– Presence of tones, low frequencies, amplitude modulation
– On the likelihood of noise nuisance as per Section 108 of the EPA Act No 7 of 1992.
The survey was carried out in accordance with best international practice and in accordance with the most up to date Institute of Acoustics guidance for noise measurements of wind turbines/wind farms. This also included the anticipated recommendations of the Institute of Acoustics guidance document on Amplitude Modulation (IOA Noise Working Group (Wind Turbine Noise) Amplitude Modulation Working Group, Final Report, A Method for Rating Amplitude Modulation in Wind Turbine Noise), which was published in August 2016, during the noise survey, and included reference measurement methodologies, instrument placement, signal analysis, etc.
Public access to raw data
All of the raw the acoustic and audio data utilised in the analysis of these reports is available to the public on request. Due to the attendant problems the public may encounter with downloading online, very large data files associated with the raw data, Wexford County Council will be making the data available via portable hard drives. So as to protect both Wexford County Council and the end user from computer viruses etc, ensure IT security and to prevent corruption of the data, Wexford Co Co will copy the raw data from the Wexford County Councils master copy on to a new portable 250 GB hard drive, which will be supplied at the purchase cost of the hard drive.
The Software to access the raw data files is available to download from the following websites:
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Copies of the reports have been sent to the complainants and the wind farm operators. Wexford County Council is currently assessing the contents of the reports and following evaluation of the results Wexford County Council will issue further updates in due course.
Seven families which included children in a north Cork village in Ireland launched legal actions back in 2013 against the wind turbine operators for a project adjacent to their homes. The wind plant began operations in 2011 which they claimed caused them adverse health effects mainly due to noise pollution coming from the turbines. The impacts to health were severe enough that several families were forced to abandon their homes seeking relief. In January 2017 Enercon Wind Farm Services Ireland Ltd. admitted to liability leading to the court order to settle the actions for damages.
THE HIGH COURT 2011 No. 9955P Tuesday the 6th day of December 2016
And the Court records that liability has been admitted by the Defendants in the action herein and each action listed in the schedule here-after……
(Bolded for emphasis)
An announcement has been published that settlements have now been reached in the actions before the High Court.
Cork village families settle action against wind turbine operators
By Ann O’Loughlin
14/06/2017 – 12:28:35
A group of families in a north Cork village who sued a wind farm operator claiming the huge turbines adversely affected their health have settled their High Court actions.
The High Court was this morning told the cases involving seven families from the Banteer area had been settled and the cases could be struck out.
The actions were regarded as landmark cases and the High Court had been due to assess damages after liability was admitted in the case several months ago.
The cases against Enercon Windfarm Services Ireland Ltd and Carrigcannon Wind Farm Ltd were taken by the Shivnen family and others including couples, families, and one single occupant.
The seven families from Banteer area claimed they have been severely impacted, particularly through noise pollution, since the turbines began operating in Nov 2011.
In court today, Roland Budd Bl told Mr Justice Tony O’Connor the implementation of the settlement agreements had taken place and the seven actions could be struck out.
No details of the settlement were given in court. The case will be briefly mentioned next month in relation to certain costs. The Banteer action was the first of its kind in the country.
Ireland’s wind industry has been put on notice. Damages and costs will be decided for the families adversely harmed by the noise emitted from wind turbines. The implications for the industry will no doubt reverberate worldwide. (Read prior court ruling by following link below)
PRESS RELEASE 3rd January 2017 – Wind Aware Ireland
High Court order for families forced from homes due to noisy wind turbines.
The High Court has issued its order regarding the seven families from Cork who were impacted by noise pollution from a nearby wind farm. A number of the families had to abandon their homes because of the severity of the noise and some lived up to a full 1km from the wind farm.
The defendant, Enercon Wind Farm Services Ireland Ltd., has admitted liability and the case is listed for ten days in the High Court commencing 25th April 2017 to deal with damages and costs. The outcome of the April court case could be a watershed for existing and planned wind farms as well as for investor confidence in, and government plans for the future of on-shore wind in Ireland. Many families, similarly affected by noisy wind turbines are anxiously awaiting the outcome and it is expected that more cases will now follow.
There has been a failure of successive governments to regulate the wind industry. Minister Denis Naughten is the latest minister to delay the introduction of regulation. This despite his promise to regulate the distance turbines can be placed from homes within 3 to 6 months of his taking office. Instead, yet another lengthy period of consultation is planned, despite previous consultations on the matter attracting over 7,000 submissions. A spokesperson from Wind Aware Ireland has stated “This further delay has indicated how far this government are prepared to allow the continuation of a free-for-all in the construction of wind farms, to the detriment of rural communities who are bitterly opposing their construction.” Ireland’s embarked on an all-wind strategy in 2007 under Minister Eamon Ryan in conjunction with Brendan Halligan (chairman of SEAI), who was also a director and shareholder in Mainstream Renewables, one of Ireland’s biggest wind farm developers. No cost benefit analysis (CBA) or strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was ever carried out on the plan. Both of these legally required analyses were sidestepped. To date, these analyses have not been carried out and Ireland proceeds with this expensive experiment. Ireland’s 1400 wind turbines have reduced our CO2 emissions by a paltry 3-4%.
The parents of autistic children have particular fears about the effects turbines and high voltage pylons may have on their quality of life.
Whenever Jenny Spittle’s children visit their grandad in England, 12-year-old Billie comes home tired, complaining of headaches, earache, dizziness and hearing buzzing noises. Billie has autism and her mother is convinced her symptoms are brought on by the towering pylons and wind turbines located near her grandfather’s house. Now Jenny lies awake at night worrying about plans to build a wind farm close to her home in Co Westmeath.
“I see what she’s like after a week with her grandfather and wonder how she’ll cope if we have these things on our doorstep,” she says.
Like many autistic children, Billie is hyper-sensitive to sound and light. She hears sounds at frequencies that are inaudible to most people, and Jenny is afraid she will find the sound of wind turbines close to home intolerable.
“It’s not easy raising an autistic child, yet while I’m busy trying to organise psychotherapy, speech and language, occupational therapy and all the other kinds of supports she needs to help her cope with everyday life, I also have to make time to protest against pylons and wind turbines,” she says. “I can’t afford to wait until they’ve been built to voice my objections. I have to protect my child.”
Thirteen years ago, university lecturer Neil van Dokkum and his wife Fiona moved from South Africa to an idyllic part of Waterford with their two sons. Their youngest, Ian, had been diagnosed with autism and part of the reason for choosing to make their home in such a remote location was to give Ian the peaceful environment they felt he needed in which to thrive. Then, six months ago, Neil heard about the proposed construction of pylons in the area from a neighbour. The news set off alarm bells for him and his family.
“Ian is incredibly sensitive to electric noise and certain types of light,” he says. “He will start crying and become very agitated. It is a source of emotional trauma for him. My wife and I discovered the extent of this sensitivity when we installed energy-saving light bulbs in our kitchen. When Ian walked in, he put his fingers into his ears, screwed his face up tight and said: ‘Blue light off, please Daddy. Blue light off!’ I was sitting directly under the light and had not noticed anything. Ian was standing at the door, about four metres away, and he couldn’t bear it. Can you imagine how he will be affected by pylons carrying 400kV power lines? Like many other parents of autistic kids and indeed children with other intellectual disabilities, we deliberately moved to the country so as to be away from the city with its high levels of ambient noise, including electrical noise, and disturbance. At night, it can be so quiet here that I can hear the cows crunching grass in the field opposite. Can you imagine how that silence will be shattered by clanking pylons? More specifically, how my son’s silence will be shattered by the electrical noise coming from those cables? How will he be able to sleep with that noise? And how will the rest of my family sleep as Ian becomes highly agitated when awakened by this distressing noise?
“The other concern I have is flight risk. Ian, like many autistic children, has no sense of danger and will run away and on to the road at any opportunity. He is not running away from anything, but sometimes seems to feel the need to rush into an open space. Again, the countryside, with its minimal traffic and quieter roads, is far safer than a city with all those vehicles. Even so, my property is fenced and gated, not to keep people out, but rather to keep my son in and safe.
My deepest fear now is that the electrical noise coming off cables and pylons will disturb him so much that he will attempt to run from it. And if he can’t get out, he will bang his head against the wall out of sheer frustration. The potential consequences are too painful to even contemplate, and if the proposed construction of pylons across the countryside goes ahead, selling our house would be impossible, so we are effectively trapped.
“If the Government were to abandon its slavish adulation of the wind industry and pursue the biomass option, converting Moneypoint power station to biomass boilers, it could save over three billion euro. Imagine how many state-of-the-art facilities for people with intellectual disabilities could be built with that sort of money.”
A Department of Health spokesperson says: “According to international literature, no direct health effects have been demonstrated in persons living in close proximity to wind turbines. However, it is agreed that there is a need for additional, well-designed studies in this area. The Department of Health advises that anyone who believes they are experiencing any health problems should consult their GP promptly.”
In its draft development plan, Westmeath County Council required any new wind farm development to implement a setback distance of 10 times the height of the turbine from residential dwellings, but the Department of the Environment intervened. Under Objective PWin6 of the plan, a turbine measuring 180m, for instance, would be sited at least 1.8km away from any house, while according to the Department’s wind energy guidelines, a distance of 500m is deemed sufficient. Minister of State for Planning Jan O’Sullivan wrote to the council instructing it to re-examine the setback distance.
“We received over 5,600 submissions from constituents who supported PWin6, which would have kept the setback distance in place,” says Westmeath County Council chairman Peter Burke. “We informed the Minister of State that we felt the Department’s guidelines were not adequate and she appointed an inspector to carry out an independent review.”
Last month, that inspector’s report recommended against the inclusion of the PWin6 objective on the grounds that it “would be contrary to section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.”
At the time of writing, the Department’s final decision on the matter is pending.
Safety first: Are turbines and pylons dangerous?
Now that Ireland’s plan to export wind energy to Britain has been scrapped, the public has been left a little breathing space to focus on a simple question: Are wind farms and their related pylons and overhead power lines safe or not?
The Department of Health’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Colette Bonner, has said that older people, people who suffer from migraine, and others with a sensitivity to low-frequency vibration, are some of those who can be at risk of ‘wind turbine syndrome’.
“These people must be treated appropriately and sensitively as these symptoms can be very debilitating,” she commented in a report to the Department of the Environment last year. We asked Dr Bonner for clarification.
“Presently the World Health Organisation does not classify Wind Turbine Syndrome as a disease under the WHO international classification of diseases,” she said. “Current research in the area suggests that there are no direct health effects of wind turbines. However, there are methodological limitations of many of the studies in this area and more high quality research is recommended.”
Side by side with the controversy over wind farms comes concern over the high voltage pylons which distribute the electricity generated by the wind turbines to the national grid. Chief Medical Officer in the Deptartment of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, has stated that he does not think there is a health risk associated with people living in vicinity of pylons.
But not everybody agrees; according to British physicist Denis Henshaw, people have every reason to be concerned. Emeritus professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University and scientific director of the charity Children with Cancer UK, he recently told a public health meeting in Trim, Co Meath, that high voltage power cables are linked “beyond reasonable doubt” to childhood leukaemia and other diseases.
“It has been shown again and again that there is a definite risk of childhood leukaemia and other diseases near these lines,” he says. “The link is so strong that when a childhood leukaemia occurs near these lines there is a greater than 50pc chance that the leukaemia is due to the line. This raises the prospect of legal action for corporate manslaughter against those involved in putting the line there. The Irish government and EirGrid need to take care of their citizens and acknowledge the known health risks in people near these lines.”
A spokesman for EirGrid says: “We’re not doctors, but having taken advice from experts at the World Health Organisation, along with the chief science adviser and the chief medical officer, it is clear to us that there is no evidence to link overhead lines with adverse health effects.”
The Government report ‘Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields’ 2007 says: “Given that there is still uncertainty about whether long-term exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields could cause childhood leukaemia, use of precautionary measures to lower people’s exposure would therefore appear to be warranted.
“As a precautionary measure, future power lines and power installations should be sited away from heavily populated areas to keep exposures to people low.”