South Wicklow residents living in the shadow of the Raheenleagh Wind Farm had a simple message for the elected members of Wicklow County Council this week: help us.
At Monday’s meeting of Wicklow County Council, three members of the Raheenleagh/Ballinvalley Wind Action Group gave a damning, and at times emotional, description of how their lives have changed for the worst since the wind farm became operational last year.
Eugene Clune, a farmer living and working in Ballinvalley Upper, told members that the noise from the wind farm ‘is not only a nuisance, it destroys lives.’ He said that many people living nearby had huge fears for their wellbeing and their sanity.
Residents are ‘very distrustful’ of the ESB and Coillte (who jointly own the wind farm), Mr Clune explained, because of what they saw as the total lack of communication that came from both bodies throughout the project. Residents felt ‘ignored’ and ‘forgotten’, he said.
‘We finally got a meeting with the liaison officer in August 2015 – two months after construction began,’ said Mr Clune. ‘It took from June to August to get the liaison officer to meet the public. Yet they could write to the council to say that they had met the public.’
‘ These letters are at total variance with the truth,’ he said.
The south Wicklow farmer said that when a testing phase was carried out at the wind farm, not only was in unannounced but the noise was ‘frightening’ and ‘rattled the roofs of sheds’. Some farmers were forced to spend time in their sheds trying to calm down their distressed animals, elected members heard.
‘ The ESB never had the courtesy to say that a testing phase would happen,’ said Mr Clune.
He outlined a number of concerns residents have about the wind farm and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared as part of the initial planning application in 2010. They believe that a further application for ‘minor adjustments’, which led to bigger turbines that, in some cases, were nearer to homes, should have warranted a fresh EIS.
‘We believe that the noise and shadow flicker has been greatly underestimated,’ Mr Clune said.
Residents are also distressed by the setting up of viewing points at turbine one and five. Aside from believing that no planning permission was sought for these, Mr Clune explained that the viewing points overlook people’s homes and the places where their children play.
‘Will binoculars at viewing points be the next addition?’ he asked. ‘ The viewing points must be dismantled at once.’
Mr Clune said that some people who go to look out from the turbines bring their dogs along with them and set them free to roam around.
‘Most of us are sheep farmers,’ he explained. ‘ But no new fences have been put up.’
The wind group member pointed out that the wind farm was obligated to seek planning permission to connect to the national grid prior to any work commencing but that no application seems to have been made. ‘Is Raheenleagh operating illegally since 2015?’ Mr Clune asked.
One of the most serious complaints the locals have is regarding the inordinate amount of noise coming from the wind farm.
Mr Clune said that the residents believe that the noise created is well in excess of guidelines and asked that the council step in to set up a survey of noise levels.
The impact of the wind farm was impacting on the lives of those living next to it, Mr Clune said, with people suffering nausea and sleep deprivation.
Noting that the group had ‘five more families of broken people’, Mr Clune made a number of requests of the council: that the viewing points at turbine one and five been closed and dismantled immediately; that a letter of warning be sent to the wind farm regarding the connectivity to the national grid; that, for child protection and public health concerns, the wind farm be closed until the issues have been resolved; and that the heads and officals in the planning and enforcement departments get together and discuss the matters raised.
‘You can make the decisions; we are powerless,’ said Mr Clune.