"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
MAYO COUNTY Council is planning to impose “community benefit” levies on wind farms, power stations, quarries, gas pipelines, telecom masts and waste disposal facilities – but the move would not apply to the Corrib gas project.
The council, which has extended the deadline for public consultation on its proposals until September 28th, is planning to set the levies at exactly the same level – €2,500 per megawatt – for wind turbines and “industrial installations for carrying gas”.
The proposed €2,500 per megawatt contribution would also apply to thermal power stations or any “industrial installation for the production of electricity, steam or hot water”, including hydropower plants, while high-voltage power lines would be levied at up to €3,000 per km.
A waste disposal installation for incineration, chemical treatment or landfill of hazardous or non-hazardous waste would have to pay €1 per tonne of waste, while quarries would be liable to a levy of €2,000 per hectare and telecom installations of €2,500 per mast.
In response to queries from The Irish Times, senior planner Iain Douglas said the contribution scheme would not apply to the Corrib gas project because it “could not be retrospective” and, in any case, it was already subject to a community benefit levy.
“The Community Benefit Contribution Scheme will apply only to new developments or substantial expansion of existing developments”, he explained. It was “simply a device to ensure local communities benefit from having major infrastructure of whatever type in their locality”.
The draft defines the benefit levy, which councils now have the power to impose, as “a contribution from a developer of a specific project for the benefit of the community affected by the development where the development will have long-term effects on the environment”.
Revenue from the levies would go towards the provision or improvement of amenity, recreational, cultural or heritage facilities as well as “the protection or enhancement of the environment” and programmes of social inclusion and community development.
Asked about the council’s decision to fix the same levy for wind as for energy derived from fossil fuels, Mr Douglas said the scheme was “not intended to be, nor can it be, a driver of energy policy [renewables versus fossil fuel]. That is a matter to be determined at national level.”
It is understood that the Irish Wind Energy Association is concerned that the proposed €2,500 annual levy per megawatt on wind farms may, proportionally, have a higher dampening impact on renewable energy investment than on fossil fuel-based facilities.
Mayo was the first county in Ireland to have a wind farm when the first phase of a 6.45-megawatt installation was built in 1992 on the site of a decommissioned peat-fired power station at Bellacorrick, near Bangor Erris. Since then several others have been developed.