At FuturEnergy Ireland, we work hard to ensure that we are best in class and that our developments reflect this. Environmental protection including preservation of biodiversity is at the core of our sustainable business practices from commercial forestry through to wind farm development. We ensure that our projects conform to or exceed all statutory requirements and best practice guidelines in relation to environmental protection.
Planning and Environmental Context
According to the wind energy designations of the Wind Energy Strategy, included as Volume 5 of the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023, and the Clare Renewable Energy Strategy 2017-2023, included as Volume 6 of the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023, the county contains the following four categories;
- Strategic Area
- Acceptable in Principle
- Open to Consideration
- Not Normally Permissible
The majority of the site and all of the proposed turbines are located in a designated “Strategic Area”.
Clare County Council has designated a number of Landscape Character Areas, and has categorized the county into three categories of “Living Landscapes”. These are:
- Heritage Landscapes
- Working Landscapes
- Settled Landscapes
Heritage Landscapes are the most sensitive to development. The subject site is located in a “Settled Landscape”. There are a number of scenic routes situated in close proximity to the site. Most of these are along regional roads. The Scenic Route 28 from Mountshannon – Scarriff – Toumgreaney and Scenic Route 27 from O’Briensbridge – Killaloe – Ogonnelloe are predominantly focused on views of Lough Derg and the Arra mountains beyond.
The Carrownagown site does not constitute a Natura 2000 site. However, it is located adjacent to the Sliabh Bernagh Bog SAC (002312). Other statutorily designated sites located within five kilometres of the project are set out below:
|Site Code||Designation||Site Name||Approximate Distance to site Boundary (km)|
|002312||SAC||Slieve Bernagh Bog||Adjacent|
|000337||NHA||Doon Lough NHA||2.9|
|004058||SPA||Lough Derg (Shannon) SPA||3|
|001020||NHA||Loughanilloon Bog NHA||3.5|
Progress at Carrownagowan on Environmental aspects
The preliminary site investigation, including both desk-study and field surveys commenced in the early phase of the project and the constraints identified influenced the design. These studies allowed potential ground risk to be identified and designed for appropriately and included slope assessment, 3D modelling, peat stability assessment, and consideration of the existing forest road network and the existing drainage network.
Once the infrastructure layout has been finalised, further detailed site investigations are completed. These include additional soil/peat depth surveys, trial pitting and a number of boreholes at key locations, to support the project engineering. Additional information on habitats, rivers and the nearest houses are also included. The aim is to demonstrate that the wind farm design has taken into account any potential risk factors and eliminated or reduced any risk through design. These works are detailed below.
Ecology and Aquatics
Habitat surveys were completed at the site in the 2018 and 2019. The site principally consists of conifer plantation (WD4). Sections of bogland (raised bog (PB1), upland blanket bog (PB2), and cutover bog (PB4) occur in unplanted areas within the site. A number of field areas of wet grassland ((GS4) also occur, reverting back from improvement for agriculture. The forestry operations have impacted the overall site. The rivers and streams in the study area are generally fast flowing of spate nature (i.e. fast response to rainfall). They are categorised as eroding, upland rivers with reference to Fossitt (2000).
Automated bat activity surveys from ground level and from height have been completed at the site in 2018, and 2019, along with transects within and adjacent to the site. An automated bat survey from height was completed at the end of September 2018, and further surveys were carried out in the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 2019. Bat roost surveys were completed in 2018, and 2019. Bat species using the site mainly for foraging and commuting, include Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Leisler’s bat, and Myotis Species.
Mammal surveys completed at the site included walkover surveys and the use of wildlife cameras, deployed at strategic locations throughout the site. Species using the site include Red Squirrel, Irish Mountain Hare, Mink, Pine Marten, Fox, Badger, Sitka Deer, and Red Deer. It is likely that Otter use the rivers and streams draining the site.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Frogs were frequently observed within the site, particularly using the drains and pools which offer refuge and breeding habitat for this species. A number of ponds, associated with inactive quarries were recorded during the habitat surveys at the site. These are suitable for species such as Smooth Newt which is the only native newt species in Ireland. Surveys carried out at ponds within the site, did not detect Smooth Newt using the site. It is likely that Common Lizard use the habitats within the site.
Marsh fritillary is the only Irish butterfly species listed under Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive. Devil’s bit Scabious is the main foodplant of the larval stage of the Marsh fritillary butterfly. Devils bit Scabious is present in pockets around the site where it is associated with wet grassland, bog and heath habitats. Habitat condition surveys were undertaken. In addition to searching for larval webs of the species, an assessment was made of the site suitability in terms of habitat suitability for Marsh Fritillary (i.e. sward height, food plant abundance etc.). Areas of Devil’s-bit Scabious were located and examined for larval webs of the Marsh Fritillary. During the survey it was noted that where the Devil’s-bit Scabious occurred; the habitat was not optimal for Marsh Fritillary, and no larval webs were observed. A number of other species of butterflies, damselflies (Common Blue damselfly), and dragonflies were noted during ecological surveys, including the Large White butterfly, Green-veined White butterfly, Peacock butterfly, Common Blue damselfly, and the Common Hawker dragonfly.
While there are no documented records for Kerry Slug in the Area, using the precautionary principle, a Kerry Slug Survey was completed at the site. The Kerry Slug Survey, completed under NPWS licence, did not find this species using the site. The slug species recorded during the current survey included the Great Grey Slug/Leopard Slug and the Tree Slug.
Aquatic surveys were completed in October 2018 and 2019 at representative locations on watercourses draining the site. These surveys included habitats, fish surveys (electro fishing license from Inland Fisheries Ireland), a biotic assessment (Q value) and water sampling for analysis of physico-chemical water quality parameters.
Fish species recorded during surveys included Brown Trout, Atlantic Salmon, River/Brook Lamprey, Three Spined Stickleback, Stone Loach, European Eel, and Minnow. The distribution of fish in the study area is apparently affected by migration obstacles such as high gradient reaches and may also be affected by artificial structures such as bridge foundation aprons and culverts.
The macroinvertebrate communities recorded at study sites comprised a wide range of macroinvertebrate taxa. The major groups including Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera were well represented at most locations (larval stage). The current survey results indicate that biological water quality in the watercourses draining the proposed development is generally very good. Representative stretches of the rivers and streams within these catchment areas were surveyed for Freshwater Pearl Mussel in 2018. Freshwater Pearl Mussel were not detected within stretches of watercourse surveyed and these were considered unsuitable for FPM.
A comprehensive suite of bird surveys was completed at the study area between the winter of 2016, and the summer of 2019 (3 years of continuous bird survey), using recent Scottish Natural Heritage guidance. Species recorded are typical for the habitats present in upland area.
Noise, Wind and Grid
The Noise Impact Assessment describes the potential noise impact from the proposed wind farm. The main sources of noise from a wind turbine include aerodynamic noise (rotating blades in the air) and mechanical noise (gearbox and generator).
Noise only occurs above the ‘cut-in’ wind speed and below the ‘cut-out’ wind speed. The typical ‘cut in’ wind speed of a modern turbine is 3 meters per second (m/s) and the ‘cut-out’ wind speed is approximately 25 to 30 m/s.
Noise and vibration assessments were undertaken for the operational, the construction and decommission phases of the proposed development. The cumulative impact with other wind farms was also considered where relevant.
The scope of the assessment has been defined by industry standard best practice and guidance used in Ireland and the United Kingdom. In general, the scope of the assessment includes:
- Establishing the existing or baseline noise conditions at representative noise sensitive receptors, in this case, residential dwellings.
- Establishing noise limits based on the measured baseline noise levels in accordance with best practice and guidance.
- Using computer software, the noise emissions from the proposed wind farm and associated infrastructure are predicted at the noise sensitive receptors.
- The predicted wind farm noise emissions are compared against the noise limit criteria endorsed by the Irish Government.
To inform the noise impact assessment, baseline noise monitoring of the existing noise environment was carried out over a 4-week period in early Autumn 2018.
Locations were chosen to represent the typical noise levels around the development; dwellings in different directions around the site and, where possible, the nearest dwelling in a specific direction was chosen. Care was taken to ensure that the noise monitors could be left in a safe location over the extended monitoring period and at sufficient distance from typical noise sources so as not to unduly elevate background noise levels. A single baseline noise monitoring location can represent a number of other dwelling locations.
Following the establishment of the existing noise levels prior to development, appropriate noise levels were then determined in line with Government policy and guidance. The noise limits seek to strike a balance between the noise restrictions placed on a wind farm, the protection of amenity and the national and global benefits of renewable energy development. The predicted noise emissions from the wind farm are then compared against these limits.
The noise predictions were undertaken using industry standard noise prediction computer software. The input criteria are defined by best practice, are standard and can take account of the following:
- Geometric divergence;
- Air Absorption;
- Reflecting obstacles;
- Vegetation; and
- Ground reflections
The predicted wind farm noise emissions must not exceed the noise limit. To ensure noise limits are not exceeded, the most appropriate wind turbine model operating in the most appropriate mode will be selected.
Until the wind measuring metrological mast was installed in July 2018, the wind speed for the site was based on the wind atlas (Irish wind atlas/wind navigator), which is very much an indicative view point.
The installed on site met mast provides us with the information to facilitate:
- Building a picture up on wind class for the site (i.e. wind speed).
- Developing a view on the wind rose for the site, indicating the predominant wind directions. As it is assumed that the dominant wind direction is generally south-westerly. In reality, it may be more omnidirectional which would impact the turbine layout.
- Other wind factors, including turbulence, shear and inflow angle.
EIAR consultants, Malachy Walsh and Partners, have a specialist consultant working on grid connection options. A Grid Connection feasibility study was completed which identified and mapped potential Overhead Line (OHL) and Underground Cable (UGC) routes. All identified OHLs and UGCs were surveyed and constraining factors have been identified.
Work is progressing on the selection of the preferred grid connection route, which will be an Underground Cable to either Ardnacrusha or Ennis substation. All Eirgrid specifications and requirements have been reviewed and incorporated. The favoured UGC, which is the preferred option, arising from a comparison of all options and constraints, will be assessed and included in the EIAR.