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ESB to decommission 70-turbine Derrybrien wind farm in Co Galway

The construction of the wind farm in 2003 was linked to a landslide that led to the death of around 50,000 fish and tonnes of dislodged peat.

File image from 2003 of sludge from works at the wind farm in Derrybrien covering a road bridge outside the town in Co Galway.
File image from 2003 of sludge from works at the wind farm in Derrybrien covering a road bridge outside the town in Co Galway.
Image: PA

THE ESB HAS said it will decommission a wind farm in Co Galway that has led to the State paying millions in fines over lack of compliance with EU legislation. 

In November 2019, the EU’s Court of Justice fined the State €5 million over its failure to comply with EU legislation that might have prevented landslides linked to the construction of the wind farm in Derrybrien. 

The court also set an additional daily fine of €15,000 until the government achieves compliance with environmental legislation on assessing the impact of the wind farm.

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 ruling on 3 July 2008, the court said in 2019. 

The ESB submitted a substitute consent application to An Bord Pleanála in August 2020. This was refused last month.

This refusal ended the statutory process seeking to retrospectively regularise the environmental impact assessment status of the wind farm.

Following this refusal, the ESB said today it will withdraw the use of the wind farm. 

A statement from the semi-state company said: “ESB consequently paused operation of Derrybrien. Following careful consideration ESB has now decided to decommission the wind farm.

ESB will now prepare for the decommissioning of the 70 wind turbines in accordance with planning laws and regulations.

The wind farm was set up in 2003. There was a massive landslide at Derrybrien on 16 October that year. 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 previously said two investigations had concluded that the environmental disaster had been linked to the construction work on the wind farm.

The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil earlier this month that the “long-running saga” has been “going on for far too long”.

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He said the ESB “has to resolve this quickly” by either taking a case to the court or demolishing and removing the wind farm. 

The ESB told the Department of the Environment that it paused operation of the wind farm on 15 February this year, after ABP’s decision. 

The lump sum fine of €5 million was paid in January 2020, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said in a written Dáil answer last year. 

The daily €15,000 fines are paid in six-month batches. 

A statement from the Department of Housing said: “The Department notes the decision announced by the ESB today. Further engagement with the Commission will now take place to clarify the status of Ireland’s compliance with the CJEU judgment.”

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