The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte TD, is expected in Letterkenny today to announce that the Donegal 110kv line has been energised. While this announcement may well be one of his final public acts as Minister it is also part of a wider PR exercise in support of EirGrid’s massive power-line and pylon plans which are required to prop-up wind farm expansion across the country. Sadly the national media and most local media in Donegal will accept the claims made by the Minister and EirGrid, in their carefully crafted PR, and present this to the public without any critical analysis.
Despite the positive spin, from today’s event, the Donegal 110kv project has caused extensive environmental damage and has been significantly delayed. For example a quick visit to the EirGrid website shows that energisation was to have been achieved by late 2012, a fact that will probably not feature in the PR at today’s event (and will likely be removed from the website following this blog post so here it is via the Internet Archive). However, it is the detrimental environmental impacts of this project and the significant lack of oversight from Donegal County Council and the NPWS which are a cause of great concern. For example yesterday the Donegal Post (a local paper) carried as a front page story (continued on page 8) a series of shocking images and reports of the damaged caused by the construction works related to this project in protected habitat areas.
Despite an ecological protocol being put in place for the project is seems the little attention has been paid to the processes and procedures to protect the environment and ensure the line construction does not impact on a number of sensitive ecological sites. Even in instances where serious breaches of the protocol have been raised the subsequent investigation reports have downplayed the impact of such significant breaches. For example see the Environmental Incident Report (December 2013) in relation to breaches of the protocol with respect to the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM) sub-basin catchment of the Owenea.
“The undertaker shall be required to engage the services of a project ecologist for the duration of the construction period. A protocol shall be drawn up with the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to establish inspection and monitoring procedures and be agreed with the planning authority.”
While it is bad enough that there is obviously no effective oversight of these monitoring and test reports the 110kv project is also being used to spin the effectiveness of such mitigation measures in FWPM catchment areas in the current consultation in relation to the proposed variation to the county development plan which would re-categorise FWPM sub-basin catchments as not favoured for wind farm development. The purported effectiveness of the 110kv line mitigation was raised in just three submissions to the consultation (no 356, 581 & 582) out of 3,326 received. However the Council Chief Executive saw fit to mention these claims in his report (last paragraph page 9) on the proposed variations to the County Development Plan. This is despite their being no evidence base to back them up as the monitoring and testing reports, in relation to water quality, are not available in relation to the project.
The rotten irony in all of this is that despite the FWPM populations and habitats being protected in Irish and EU law and the Sweetman judgment (paragraph 44) confirming that a plan can only be approved when the best scientific knowledge in the field – are certain that the plan or project will not have lasting adverse effects on the integrity of that site, Donegal County Council in its Chief Executive’s report claim that there is no evidence base to support the de-categorisation of the FWPM zones as favoured for wind farm development. This reversal of the burden of proof with respect to the evidence required, to base a decision upon, by the local authority is staggering but not surprising when large government organisations such as EirGrid, NPWS and DAHG fail to carry out their duties and when the national media fail to look behind the spin in relation to wind farms and ancillary developments.
Despite the wind industry mantra of Act On Facts and claims in relation to the need for evidence based science as the basis of wind farm development in Ireland, when one digs beneath the spin one finds no real evidence for targeting sensitive ecological sites as hosts for wind farms. Let us hope Donegal’s councillors act on facts (not spin) and dezone the FWPM catchments in the county.
Update: the Minister in a room packed with EirGrid, ESB Networks, County Council officials and the media, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Letterkenny, announced the ‘energisation’ on 26 June 2014.