Gort Biogas Concern Group Legal Challenge Update

The people of south Galway have shown incredible generosity over the last few weeks through donations and fundraising activities. We are making good progress towards reaching our target funding to pay for our legal challenge against An Bord Pleanála.

Since receiving the notification from ABP in late December and incredible amount of work has been going on in the background to forensically review all aspects of the ABP report and to build our case.   

Legal Challenge progress

Our legal team is in place and are busy putting together our case. They are working towards a deadline of the 24th February, by which time we must submit our complete case before a judge for review. The judge will then decide if we have sufficient grounds to proceed. Once we do, then the same amount of time, roughly 8 weeks, will be offered to ABP to prepare their defence case.

The judge will then be set for the case to be heard in court.  

Time line

  • By the 24th February our legal team will have submitted the case to the High Court for leave to appeal.
  • If and when leave to appeal is granted, the judge must then offer the same amount of time (circa. 8 weeks) to the defendant to prepare their rebuttal.
  • The judge will also appoint a date for the hearing in court. This can take anywhere from 2-8 months. The length of time is difficult to estimate as extensions are invariably sought during the case. The court diary will also be busy. As always we will keep people informed as we are all fighting this together

So what’s happening right now….?

Right now we are continuing to fundraise and have some really great events coming down the track this Spring, including some fun at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Keep an eye on our FB page (https://www.facebook.com/gortbiogasconcerngroup) and soon to be live Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/gortbiogascg/) for updates and more information.

The message remains loud and clear

The people of south Galway do not want this development and will take the fight as far needs be to ensure the protection of our town, its people and our local environment.

Ciaran O’Donnell


The Planned Biogas Plant in Gort – An explainer

After almost a 2 year wait,on the 22nd of December, An Bord Pleanala decided to overturn Galway County Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for a large-scale Biogas plant on the immediate outskirts of Gort Co. Galway. This decision will have brutal impacts on Gort town and the local environment as the Biogas plant is set to go ahead.

This industrial biogas plant (think of it as a massive stomach) , will be developed on a 25 acre site. The town of Kinvara could fit inside it. It will have the following process

  • Take delivery of 90,000 tonnes/year of ‘feedstock’ such as slurry, food compost, fish waste and silage
  • Digest this in 8 massive digester tanks and produce Methane, Carbon Dioxide and other chemicals such as Hydrogen Sulphide, Nitrous Oxide , Ammonia etc
  • This process will produce offensive odours within the process
  • Store and export 150,000 tonnes/annum of the digested slurry or digestate
  • Spread this on land in vicinity of the plant – This equates to spreading almost 2 Olympic- sized swimming pools of smelly slurry-digestate on land in South Galway/North Clare every week.

Anerobic digesters are a key part of our Climate Action Plan but there are some key issues that we have in this location.

  • The location is completely wrong for an industrial sized biogas plant, in terms of it’s access to feedstock, size and proximity to local population, local amentities and its proximity to Coole Park nature reserve and SACS, These should be located to feedstock sources.
  • There are key health concerns for locating this facility so close to a town (100m to nearest residence, 50m from Gort River Walk, 400m to nearest housing estate and 900m from Gort Town Centre/Square). Biogas plants produce Nitrous Oxide, Ammonia, Sulpher Dioxide many of which are harmful to human health. Biogas plants can explode.
  • There are traffic, and health and safety concerns as this facility will bring 6,000-7000 HGVs into Gort per year. This may cause havoc on the towns roads, increase risk of traffic accidents and bring more fumes and noise into the town
  • This will make town and environs smelly – from escaped odours of the plant to the spreading of 2 olympic-sized swimming pools of smelly digestate per week. This will have the most pervasive and impactful effect on the town e.g.
  • The town and and local economy will be severely impacted – tourism will plummet – accommodation, restaurants, services. House values will plummet. People will not want to live or locate their business in town. The culture of the town will be forever changed. Welcome to ‘smelly Gort’ and
  • The local environment will be at risk. An explosion or spill into the Gort River (10m from plant) will reach Kitartan and Coole Park and would have catastrophic impacts. Digestate on land will increase levels of pollution in South Galway
  • The plant could suck Gort Town dry of water. Our fragile water system couldn’t take heavy water demands from this type of plant. The town supply is at near critical level and the infrastructure simply isn’t there to meet the additional demand of such a facility.
  • There are national rural concerns here also because these plants will try and locate themselves close to infrastructure and they won’t take local towns concerns into consideration.

The community around South Galway is devastated that after all the work done and Galway County Council’s refusal that this is being allowed to go ahead and deal a horrendous blow to the future of Gort and South Galway. The general consensus of the South Galway community is that if this development goes ahead it will absolutely ruin the town and surrounding environs and have impacts on peoples lifestyles, health and businesses around South Galway (especially the tourism industry)

Please help us protect it now and into the future. Please support or fundraiser to mount our legal challenge to overthrow An Bord Pleanala’s decision to grant planning permission.

Sustainable Bio-Energy Limited…. the numbers still don’t add up

An Bord Pleanála (ABP) recently requested further information from Sustainable Bioenergy Limited on their proposed development of a Biogas plant in Gort, Co. Galway. The ABP requested focused on the water requirements to run this facility, where this water would be sourced from, and how these numbers were calculated.  The water requirement, as stated within the application, is 120,000,000 litres per year (120,000 m3).  

The ABP request…

“Please provide a breakdown of the water/liquor supply sources to be utilized at the proposed development with the associated calculations which confirm the availability of water/liquor capacity to meet the statement requirement of 120,000 cubic metres of liquor per annum as outlined in the application documentation (Appendix 7.2 – Stormwater Report – of Volume 3 of the Environmental Impact Assessment. “

An Bord Pleanála, Further Information request

Sustainable Bioenergy Limited (via Halston) responded to on 3rd June 2022. Here we delve a little deeper into the numbers from the original application.

Let’s start at the beginning….the Gort water supply

For the last five months Gort has endured a boil water notice. Thankfully we are at the end of this long and drawn out process now and ‘normal’ service has resumed. A clean water supply is a precious commodity most of us fail to recognise until we have to sit up and pay attention. Aside from the inconvenience to most, the affect hit the more vulnerable members of our community the hardest. The underlying issue here is that the towns water supply is in a precarious position; ‘highly sensitive’ and in ‘severe crisis’, not my words, but those used in recent Dail[1] discussions about the Gort water supply.

The Gort water supply is currently close to maximum capacity and even a modest increase in demand will require significant improvements to the network. To give an understanding of capacity sensitivity, according to the Irish Water Capacity Register, in dry summers the Gort Water supply is barely able to keep up with demand. The total capacityofthe current Gort water supply is 1,440 m3 /day and the summer of 2019 saw a daily usage of 1,407 m3/day.  This doesn’t leave much of a margin before things become critical.  

Water requirements for the proposed Gort Biogas plant

Starting up a biogas plant requires feedstock and water to create a Liquor to start the Anaerobic Digestion Process. The amount of water required is dependent on the type of feedstock used and the amount dry-matter content (DMC) it contains. The water requirement calculations shown in Table 1 are based on a median 7% dilution rate, whereas actual ranges are from 5%-8%.

Table 1. Sustainable Bioenergy Limited proposed feedstock material, tonnage and water requirements for dilution.

FeedstockAnnual TonnageDry Matter Content (DMC)DMC (Tonnes)Water Content (m3)Water Required for Dilution to 7% (m3)
Grass Silage54,00028%15,12038,880162,000
Cattle Slurry22,50011%2,47520,02512,857
Agri-Food Residues13,50012%1,62011,8809,643

Water requirements to meet the minimum (8%) and maximum (5%) ranges are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Water dilution range, potential dilution requirements

DMC of digestate in digestersWater Required to Dilute Feedstock (m3 per annum)

Rain glorious rain

Sustainable Bioenergy Limited state in the EIAR that they will source all of their water requirements for the digesters from rainwater. A standard connection to the Gort water supply is included to meet building supply needs (offices, toilets, etc). Based on their own information (supplied via Halston), the plant will source most of their feedstock material from Grass Silage. This will see peak water demand during the driest months of the year.

Worth stating again…. Peak demand period for rainwater will be during the summer months when we have the least rain. The numbers provided by do not take into account the seasonality of rainfall and assume it rains equally each month of the year, throughout the year!

Whichever way you cut it once again the number simply don’t add up.

As defined in the EIAR, and taking into consideration the proposed Biogas plant feedstock inputs, process and digestate outputs there will be a significant shortfall in water supply for the plant. There is a significant lack of detail applicant’s response when it comes to water supply and demand and this simply isn’t good enough.

ABP Request for additional information…are things clearer now?

The simple answer is no. Ample opportunity was provided to address the information requested by ABP. However, all the remains is uncertainty.

“Please provide a breakdown of the water/liquor supply sources to be utilized at the proposed development with the associated calculations which confirm the availability of water/liquor capacity to meet the statement requirement of 120,000 cubic metres of liquor per annum as outlined in the application documentation

Table 3. Water demand requirements included in the original EIAR submission and if clarification has been provided in the response to ABP.

Water DemandFigures Supplied?Demand calculation clarified?
Office (kitchen toilet) for 20 people & Laboratory + 20+ truck driversNo, but potentially part of connection to the Gort mains supplyNo
Washing of facility and trucksNo, but potentially part of connection to the Gort mains supplyNo
Production start-up SeedingNo, but potentially part of connection to the Gort mains supplyNo
Fire WaterYesYes
Anaerobic Digestion processYes – 120,000 m3No
Maintenance (annual shutdown and cleaning)NoNo

Given ambiguities in the EIAR submitted in the original application, ABP were correct in questioning the numbers provided and how they were calculated. In response to the information request, we have presented our review of their submission and have highlighted the errors and miscalculations in the EIAR, while providing empirical data on current demands on the Gort water supply, highlighting the precarious state of the Gort water supply.

We can only hope that ABP will uphold the decision of Galway County Council to refuse planning permission. South Galway already has one environmental planning disaster with the Derrybrien Windfarm and the prospect of another is unthinkable. If this plant goes ahead, you may well be reminded of this bad decision every time you go to turn on the tap. Let’s not let the well run dry!

[1]  https://galwaybayfm.ie/galway-bay-fm-news-desk/dail-hears-deep-disrespect-shown-to-gort-over-boil-water-notice-saga/

If you want to send in an observation please see instructions here:

Proposed Biogas plant could bleed Gort dry

Last week An Bord Pleánala wrote to the applicants for the proposed Biogas plant in Gort seeking clarifications regarding its water supply requirements. The developers state that they will need 120,000 m³ (120 million litres) of water annually to run the plant and there are some major concerns over this.

Why is this important?

The Biogas proposal would have a significant impact on the water supply of Gort Town which already has a constrained capacity. An additional extraction of 120 million litres per year would break an already over-stretched infrastructure. In order to meet these Biogas demands, significant restrictions could be imposed on the Gort Town Water Supply on how we could use water domestically, in businesses as well as potentially constraining future planning potential.

120,000 m³ of water is 120 million litres, which is Croke Park flooded to a depth of 10 metres. This relates to an average of 328 m³/day.

Why does a Biogas plant consume so much water?

In order to get an optimum aerobic digestion process, feedstock (silage, slurry, food waste) needs to be the consistency of a wet-sludge. The applicants state that the proposed Biogas plant will need sludge with dry-mater content (DMC) of between 5% and 8%.  

The proposal indicates that it will process 90,000 tonnes of feedstock, including 54,000 tonnes of silage, which has a very high dry-matter content (28%), and would need to be diluted 3-fold to achieve the ideal ratio. This means evert cubic metre of silage (0.77 tonnes) would need about 3000 litres of water to dilute it correctly. So even with silage alone this would be well over 120 million litres water/year, and not considering dilution of the remaining 36,000 tonnes of feedstock. Their estimation is therefore too low for the proposed development.

An important point to note is that the water consumption will not be flat and there will be peaks, mainly from when silage cutting happens from end of May to October. In these months the majority of this water requirement will be consumed. 

What are the Biogas developers proposing?

That’s the thing – the developers have indicated that the need 120 million litres of water per year but have not clarified where they are getting if from or how much they need. They have indicated that they can store run-off water from the site in attenuation ponds but this will only cover.a fraction of the requirements at peak

This is a significant omission that we highlighted during our observations on the application and we are happy that An Bord Pleánala have asked for clarification.

What clarifications are the ABP looking for ?

An Bord Pleanala have rightly questioned the developers to confirm if the capacity of the existing water network is capable of providing their needs.  They requested the following in a letter on 11th May 2022:

“Please provide a breakdown of the water supply source to be utilized at the proposed development, with the associated calculations which confirm the availability of water capacity t othee the state requirements of 120,000 cubic metres of liqour per annum.

What is the capacity of the Gort Water Supply?? 

According to the EPA , 2,638 people are serviced by the Gort Public Water Supply (PWS). The water is sourced mainly from Gort River, supplemented with water from two boreholes.

According to Irish water, the Gort Water supply is constrained and will need improvements to meet growing demand in the next 10 years. The daily demand in 2019 for the Gort Water Supply was 1018 m³/day (~1 million litres) and the expected growth in demand over the next decade is an additional 26,000 litres/day. The water supply is so limited currently that this tiny increase, will require improvements to the network. If an increase of 26,000 litres/day will require a upgrade, what on earth will happen when the proposed Gort Biogas plant needs an extra 328,000 litres/day on top of this. This is a daily average over the year so in peak silage season the requirement could easily double to 650,000 litres/day.

What we can also see from the Irish Water Capacity Register is that currently, in dry summers the Gort Water supply is barely able to keep up with demand. The total capacity of the current water supply is 1,440,000 litres/day and the 2019 demand in summer was 1,407,000 litres/day, allowing only a tiny margin of headroom (33,000 litres/ day) .

The town’s water supply is currently at capacity and burdening the supply further will only result in one thing- water restrictions. So then granting access a massive water consuming plant to use this already highly constrained water network would be simply negligent.

What kinds of impact could this have?

The proposed Gort biogas plant would cause a breakdown of the water supply in normal years and in dry years would wreak havoc. Gort would simply run out of water at peak times.

We are currently 3 months in to a ‘boil notice’ period and are fully aware of the inconvenience and hardship this has brought to some. If the proposed Biogas plant goes ahead, we could easily see 3 months of water restrictions during peak times limiting how and when we use our home supply.

We also need to carefully consider and be fully aware of how this could impact future developments within the town. If the Biogas plant went ahead then it would be impossible to develop more housing because the water supply would not have the capacity. 

There is also the environmental question,- what happens if we take an additional 650,000 litres /day from the Gort River? Will it stop flowing completely (like it almost did in 2018) ?

It’s simply not good enough that the proposed Gort Biogas plant could go ahead without due consideration to these matters. The developers omitted this consideration in their EIAR, we highlighted this on our observations and now An Bord Pleanala is seeking clarification.

The water capacity constraints are very real and so it’s is very unlikely that the Biogas developers will get any confirmation from Irish Water with demands of an additional 120 million litres of water per year day from a water supply that’s on the edge of collapse. We look forward to how the developers intend to address their response to the Bord and we will be ready to challenge it.

This is one of many reasons that this the Gort Biogas Plant can not go ahead. No ifs, no buts. This is a serious consideration, and one of many as equally serious, that could affect the people of this community and the future of the town.

Support is essential !

Please continue to support our fight against this development and share this information far and wide. If An Bord Pleanala allow this development to go ahead then we will need that support even more.

David Murray.

Biogas plant and Cycleways

When the Biogas developers came to town they talked the talk. There was jobs to be had, economic benefits, environmental benefits etc. It sounded like the ‘best-thing’ to happen to Gort since sliced-pan. It sounded really plausible, something, perhaps, beneficial to the area as there wasn’t much else going on for Gort.

It’s only when we scraped the surface and dug a little deeper did we realise the disaster on our doorstep. The proposed Gort biogas plant ended up as the proverbial bowling ball that would obliterate the economic future of South Galway. Here are some key points:

  • The site was within 10m of Gort River and developer admitted in the EIAR that though it was unlikely there would be accidents – an accident would be detrimental to our special areas like Kiltartan, Coole Lake, Garyland and even Galway Bay.
  • An air exhast design flaw that was subject to EPA controversy, in their sister plant in Ballybofey, was also included in the Gort biogas proposal, meaning that the environmental analysis was flawed
  • Their water requirements would have left Gort with a severe water shortage but they deemed that it would have not impact.
  • The traffic analysis was flawed and didn’t account for the disposal of 150,000 tonnes of (very smelly) digestate waste that was to be spread on farms in the immediate vicinity.
  • They tried to downgrade the amenity and recreational aspects of the area indicating that area had little or no recreational value.

There would be … 20 people (over 3 shifts) created.

The sister company’s track record speaks for itself as it was subject to EPA blacklisting and many EPA Non-conformance incidents in the Sister plant. Most of the complaints filed were due to the smell of the plant. The smell covered a huge area and had been highlighted by residents in the Inishowen peninsula. Here is a excerpt from a public meeting regaring the ongoing smell across the south inishowen peninsula.

Residents and business owners filled Burt Hall to full capacity on Thursday night to express their views over the ongoing smell in South Inishowen. 

3 years ago, this was potentially the best thing to happen to South Galway! But … not any more!

Gort River Walk

As the developers tried to downgrade the recreational value of the area, the community was busy progressing the Gort River Walk. This has been earmarked in Gort area plan as part of an amenity network along the Gort River. This hidden gem was really just waiting to be discovered and 3 years after its initial mooting, it is now a key amenity and resource for Gort, South Galway and North Clare.

Cycleway coming to town!

In the last few weeks Gort and South Galway has been selected as the emerging preferred route for the Athlone- Galway cycleway. A potential (and favoured) route of the Cycleway is to follow the Gort River Walk out Lavally, come over the planned bridge, into Kinincha and then take a right out the Kinincha Road toward Ballinamantan and Coole.

If the Biogas was to go ahead, this potential cycleway route would have run at least 300m along the boundary of the smelliest plant in the province, if not in the country.

If the Biogas plant had already been approved, the Athlone-Galway Cycleway would not be coming through South Galway. Yes – 20 jobs would have been created and yes the area would suffered substantially – but shouldn’t be be thankful for 20 jobs???

20 jobs is a distinct number and yes it’s printed in black and white and but it’s 3 shifts of 8 people. That’s a maximum of 8 people for perhaps for lunchs in Sullivan, The Field, The Gallery Cafe, and Roosters Cafe if they decided to go to lunch.

A cycleway has the potential to bring in 200+ people through the area in a single day, not all would be stopping in Gort and 1/2 might be local.

Both Waterford and the new Limerick Cycleway are reporting 250,000 people annually, about 1/2 are local’s using the route and 1/2 are walkers so this should inject a new tourism potential into South Galway as it currently doesn’t have enough accomodation, rooms, restaraunts, pubs, cafes, services to meet the needs of the cycleway.

That’s the scale of the difference we are talking about – A maximum of 8 biogas plant workers having lunch v’s 100+ people passing through and potentially staying in the area in a single day.

The scary thing is, that on the first application for the Biogas plant .. they almost made it…. It ticked all the boxes – green , environment, economic. The next scariest thing is that An Board Pleanala could still give permission to for the Biogas plant and if its granted then its a disaster for everybody (except the developers)

“They have heard how much of a health impact this has on the community and they need to recognise the massive impact they are having on people.”

Donegal Daily, reporting on impacts of Glenmore Biogas plant on the Ballybofey community.

The Way forward

We are now in 3rd consultation phase of the Galway to Athlone Cycleway and the project team is getting feedback on the best route to pick. This picture shows the emerging cycleway corridor (in blue) and also where the proposed biogas plant is going (in red).

The emerging cycleway route corridor (in blue) and the proposed biogas plant (in red)

The most scenic route for the cycleway is probably along the Pound road, over the bridge to Kinincha and out Ballynamantan.

Gort has recently got €800,000 grant for regeneration and enhancement of the town centre – this is the kind of investment we need in the area not smoke stacks and slurry tankers.

We need to ensure that the Biogas plant is never built here.

David Murray.

Catchment 29 – a wider perspective

Cuanbeo is a recently formed community based organisation with a mission of improving the quality of life, environment, economy and heritage in ‘Catchment 29’.  The group recently published a report (available here) on the economic assessment of the Marine Resources in southeast Galway Bay, the potential for growth and threats.

Here we look at a potential threat that hasn’t been explored- the proposal to build one of the largest Biogas plants in the country adjacent to one of the arteries feeding into inner Galway Bay. 

So what is Catchment 29?

Catchment 29 extends from Galway Docks for -117 km along the coastline to Blackhead in Co Clare. It extends inland to Athenry, Loughrea and Gort including the rivers and groundwater systems that enter the Bay. The report identifies that groundwater and surface water systems in the area are closely interlinked and highlights protection under the EU Habitats directive of areas within the catchment.

So why on earth would you site one of the largest Biogas plants in the country here given the potential consequences?

CSO map showing SAC & SPA areas around Catchment 29

Downstream effects

The report contains a case study (Case Study #3), covering a history of flooding and drainage around the Gort area, and highlights the importance of water quality entering the bay…” to the marine resources, and specifically aquaculture and fisheries in Galway Bay”. Maintaining water quality is identified as a major concern for any flood relief works being carried out. All of which are important points when trying to maintain and enhance protected and sensitive habitats.

Notwithstanding the devastating effects on the people of Gort, let’s take a look at the downstream effects of siting one of the largest Biogas plants in the country within Catchment 29.

Interconnectivity of rivers and underground flows around Gort

The proposed development lies just 10m from the Gort river, one of the main arteries that feed into the Coole-Garryland SAC. This water, in turn, enters the sea in Kinvara Bay via underground flows. Any accidental breach or discharge could potentially result in tens of millions of litres of highly concentrated effluent entering directly into the catchment system, the impact of which would be disastrous both locally and downstream. In practical terms, a facility of this magnitude is a large scale chemical factory first and foremost. For the aquaculture sites, sensitive benthic communities and protected inter-tidal habitats downstream this would be catastrophic and has the potential to not only impact the local coastal economy (fishers, aquaculture sites and the blue economy) but also threaten the protected status of this unique area.

Given the credentials of the sister development in Ballybofey (Glenmore Biogas), its chequered history of ongoing mishaps and calamities (see the Brimstone cowboys), this is a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if’ scenario.

The facility also plans to connect to Gort’s wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), a facility already identified as operating at over-capacity, placing an additional and ongoing load on an already overburdened facility. Another red flag for maintaining water quality in the Coole-Garryland SAC.   

Joined up thinking

The purpose of the report, as defined by the group, is “…to establish a baseline economic value of the marine resources including ecosystem services associated with this catchment, to heighten awareness with policy makers and planners to the true value of the aquatic marine environment…”.

The role of the wider catchment is clear- ensuring the quality of freshwater input is a vital component to maintaining water quality in inner Galway Bay. Sourcing a Biogas plant of this magnitude in such close proximity to the Gort river cannot be justified given the potential consequences.

The report notes the proliferation of community led groups in recent years, as trust waivers in state agencies to provide the degree of protection expected by communities. As custodians of our local environment, the role of community led groups has never been so important in south Galway (see South Galway-an environmental powder keg)

Three years on and the threat of this development is still very much alive. The case is now in the hands of ABP with a decision pending. Let’s hope due consideration is given not only to the implications for the people of Gort but also the downstream consequences for Galway Bay.

South Galway – The Environmental powder keg

Update : Since the publication of this article An Bord Pleanala has refused the ESB Windfarm at Derrybrien substitute consent essentially making it an unauthorized development. ESB have agreed to decommission the windfarm. Between EU Fines and decommission costs will results in loss of 10s of millions of Euro to the Irish taxpayer.

With the recent flurry of climate change commitments, we run the real risk of enabling environmental malpractice and we should learn from lessons of the past from South Galway.

For a relatively small region, South Galway has become a national symbol of environmental malpractice based on ‘green’ developments. It is not just the controversial Derrybrien Windfarm that continues to garner the news but even more recently, a similarly green project (Gort Biogas Plant) has now been proposed. Both projects, through 20 years apart are giving An Bord Pleanála a bit of a nightmare. While long overdue, within the next month or so, An Bord Pleanála will have to make decisions on both of these projects and Europe is watching very closely. While these 2 development projects tick the ‘good for the environment/climate ‘ boxes, we are still paying harshly for the lessons of Derrybrien Windfarm development malpractice. Have An Bord Pleanála and our Government actually learned the lesson?

An Bord Pleanála and the Derrybrien Windfarm

Over 20 years ago An Bord Pleanála backed the application for the development of a Windfarm in Derrybrien Co. Galway and in some aspects went against Local Authority Decisions. Within 3 years, the plan became the focus of an unauthorized development and an environmental disaster; a landslide/mudslide that entered the rivers of South Galway and killed between 50,000 fish and deposited large amounts of sediment into the catchment. The local Derrybrien community had to engage with the European Commission as the ESB and Irish Government didn’t appear interested or supportive in resolving the situation.

In July 2008, the European Court of Justice ruled that Ireland breached the EIA Directive environmental directive as no assessment was carried out ahead of construction of the large-scale 70 turbine project. After an 11-year hiatus of non-action by ESB and the Irish Government, on 12th Nov 2019, the European Court then issued a €5 million fine and a €15,000 daily fine until a retrospective environmental impact assessment (rEIAR) and associated mitigations were complete. The ESB/local authorities finally got around to applying for a ‘substitute consent’ for the windfarm development in August 2020, supported by a rEIAR. This application and its rEIAR is currently with An Bord Pleanála for review and they need to make a decision imminently.

In the past few weeks, the EU fines have now accumulated to over €15 million and the EU Environment commission did its own analysis of rEIAR. Its advice was pretty stark “Based on the technical review of the rEIAR against the requirements of the EIA Directive, it is recommended that further information is provided before the consenting authority can make an informed decision on this application. “ (See more details here).

This was a warning shot to An Bord Pleanála (ABP). The EU Environment commission brought about the court action and are clearly signalling to the An Bord Pleanála that all is not well with the ESB approach. If An Bord Pleanála rejects the EU report recommendations, then they will be kicking a very expensive can down the road as the daily fine of €15,000 will keep accumulating. The ABP/ESB will likely be told to go back to the drawing board and the process will need to be kickstarted again – wasting millions of tax-payer money.

An Bord Pleanála and the Proposed Gort Biogas Plant

As if the windfarm wasn’t enough of a controversy, an application of a mega biogas plant in Gort, South Galway is now also up for review with An Bord Pleanála . The project itself is for a plant capable for processing 90,000 tonnes of feedstock and will produce 120,000 tonnes of waste – all located within a few hundred meters of Gort town center. This application has the same familiar markers as seen by the Derrybrien Windfarm project.

  • It’s a green project and therefore it must must be good for us
  • Its environmental impact assessments are full of holes
  • There is no engagement with the local community to address local concerns

The application got a stark and strong push-back from the local community with hundreds of objections. In January 2020, Galway County Council rejected the planning application for a wide range of reasons – mainly that it wasn’t convinced that traffic impacts and environmental impacts were identified and mitigated correctly. The following gives a very brief summary of the key reasons:

  • The proposed Biogas Plant is located within a 100m of residential areas and close to Gort Town Center
  • It’s 10m from Gort River which feeds a National Park (Coole Park) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) 4km away – another environmental disaster in the making…
  • It would cause traffic chaos around the town
  • Many serious errors in the EIAR that render the Environmental Impact Analysis void. (See more details)

An Bord Pleanála on their website state that they are independent, impartial with professionalism and integrity. They have the facts so you would likely conclude that they will not overturn Galway County Councils decision and grant permission within the next few weeks. However, could this decision be influenced by the current climate-change background?

Climate Change

The pressure is on and it all looks ‘Green’. Its on individuals and it’s on governments. Reduce our carbon footprints, invest in climate change strategies.

How the climate lobby crushed debate - spiked

A recent Farmer’s Journal article. highlights that “Producing feedstock for anaerobic digestion (AD) plants will be one of the key measures to reduce agricultural emissions by 2030 according to the Government’s Climate Action Plan.

Should we aim to implement our Climate Action plan ? Absolutely! But don’t throw the environment and communities and planning regulations under the green bus .

This is unfortunately exactly what happened with the Derrybrien Windfarm.

Will history repeat itself?

The Derrybrien Windfarm debacle has not been fully resolved – It’s been 20 years since An Bord Pleanála gave permission, 17 years since ESB kick-started an unauthorized development and 13 years since ESB first refused to do a retrospective mitigation. It was however, only yesterday we added €15,000 to the €15 million fine and we’ll do the same again today and tomorrow. We (not the ESB) are still paying the price for Environmental malpractice that was done 20 years ago.

One thing is clear, if An Bord Pleanála go against local Authority decision and grant planning permission for the proposed Biogas plant in Gort then once again South Galway Community may have to repeat history and rally and challenge the decision all the way to the European Court.

The following was a warning from GreenNews Ireland in Nov 2019 , on the announcement of the massive European fine:

This issue was deemed so severe that the Court took it into account when setting the high penalty for the State. The fines imposed should now act as a big wake-up call for our Government. If not, the next Derrybrien may be just around the corner and would again leave our natural landscape, our biodiversity and our citizens footing the bill for our ongoing failure to adhere to environmental law.

There is a big conflict here and there shouldn’t be. On ‘paper’ there shouldn’t be any chance that Galway County Council’s planning refusal would be overturned. An Bord Pleanála with it’s impartiality have all facts they need to make the right decision here. There remains, however, probably with the legacy of the Derrybrien Windfarm, a lack of trust to do the right thing.

David Murray

References :

A glimpse into our potential future

To meet the demands of social media, the reporting of news, good or bad, has to be a fast and efficient process. To that end, I’ve been tasked to write media statements for both a positive and a negative outcome in advance of the decision by ABP. At first, I thought this would be a fairly straightforward task but as I sit to write I’m projected into two diametrically opposed futures. As with any two-party decision, there are winners and losers. Here’s a glimpse into what the future could hold…

A negative outcome

One future scenario sees a negative outcome, where ABP grants permission and the development goes ahead, I see an entire community shell shocked. People meeting on the street, shuffling awkwardly, looking at the ground, long pauses in conversation not knowing what to say. A wake-like atmosphere, as people come to terms with what lies ahead of them, a daunting, uncertain future. The loss of a loved one or in this instance a loved and cherished thing, like a community and a town irreversibly changed. The people of Gort, the losers in this future scenario, will bear the burden for future generations to come. 

An entire community reminded of the decision every time they draw a breath and inhale the shitty, eggy smell that permeates the air as far away as our beloved Coole. Reminded every time, they leave one of our many fine pubs after a great night with friends and walk home backlit by the flame stack glowing like a North Sea oil rig, higher than our church spire and visible from every quarter. Reminded every time they have to squeeze hard and pull back on a child’s hand as they attempt to cross the road between another slurry laden tanker roaring through the town. Reminded every time of the once peaceful and serene Golden Mile and Riverwalk now framed by the country’s largest slurry plant a stone’s throw from the town.

In the other camp, champagne corks pop and a few people celebrate their victory. The green light, the go-ahead, the all-clear. Excited plans are made for expensive foreign holidays, perhaps a new car or a second or even third holiday home. We won, we got one over on them, we duped the whole town. The celebration of a few to the detriment of many.

It has taken some time to write these words, for no reason other than it’s a future that’s worrying. The celebration of a few to the detriment of many.

A positive outcome

An alternative future scenario sees a positive outcome, where ABP upholds the decision of Galway County Council and permission is refused. The development is refused, quashed, flattened, a dead duck. People cross the road to confirm the news, phones are checked, messages sent. Can it be true? After a three-year fight, is it gone? Can we now move on? Corks are popped that evening, happy smiles all around. Plans are underway, a party, a celebration, a celebration of the power of people. The people of Gort, a steadfast community galvanised into action, not for personal financial gain but for the benefit of all. I can see the party in my mind’s eye, music on the riverwalk on a summers evening, laughter and chatter permeate the air, not an acrid eggy smell.  

These words flow easily, this is the future we want to see.

For now, we will have to wait for ABP to decide our fate. Let’s hope it’s for the benefit of many not the few.

Rude awakening on Biogas plant investments

Green energy – Airport World

The developers behind the Gort Biogas plant are having some interesting financial dynamics recently. Glenmore Generation Limited (GGL), the developers of the Biogas Plant in Ballybofey, the sister company of Sustainable Bio-Energy Limited (proposers of the Gort Biogas plant) has secured permission to waive £37 million in loan repayments due to its funders in a major restructuring plan after recording a pre-tax loss of £23.6m in 2019. According to a report the accounts reveal value of the Ballybofey plant and machinery was devalued by around £16m between the end of 2018 and 2019.

The Glenmore plant was initially set up in 2016 to turn 25,000 tonnes of poultry litter from Northern Ireland each year into energy, supplying power to manufacturers including Bombardier and Montupet. Glenmore Generation Limited, contracted an Engineering firm Williams Industrial Services (WIS) to build the plant but in 2018, the engineering firm went into administration after cash problems caused by a contractual dispute involving a £23m project in Donegal.

The Gort Biogas Proposal is centered on feeding mostly silage to the Biogas plant which compared to food or poultry waste is an extremely costly raw material to feed biogas plants. This should certainly cast a shadow of doubt over the viability of the proposed Biogas Plant in Gort, which maybe is not quite as ‘Sustainable’ as their name suggests

Gort Biogas….the long and winding road

As we run down the clock to the 30th April, the decision due date of An Bord Pleanála on the proposed Biogas development in Gort, now perhaps is a time to reflect on the journey so far.

Three years ago, the first application was lodged by the developers with Galway County Council. The development, the largest of its kind on the Island of Ireland, was news to most people in Gort and few knew about it. However, the fire was well and truly lit during a public meeting of the Burren Lowlands Group. A concerned resident stood and addressed the room about what they thought was at stake for the towns future, its people and the environment. The battle lines were drawn and elected representatives were asked to nail their flags to the mast.

A period of quiet followed and some pondered would the people of south Galway simply allow this development to go ahead? Not a chance, the people of Gort were merely drawing breath and a groundswell of support was building. The Gort Biogas Concern Group was formed and through a series of public meetings and media campaigns the public were informed as to what the future might look like should this facility go ahead.

From the developer, we saw multiple serpentine twists and turns before a decision by Galway County Council to refuse planning, in January 2020. The thread that runs consistently throughout is that Biogas facility of this magnitude in Gort stinks, much like the sister facility in Ballybofey, Co. Galway, just ask the locals!

As in life, things work in strange ways and a global pandemic acted to strengthen the resolve of people against this development as we were all asked to stay local.  I think we all have a newfound appreciation for how lucky we are to live in south Galway and appreciate all the more the renewed sense of community.

There is simply too much at stake for the people of south Galway for the benefit of a few private investors.  So, we await the decision by An Bord Pleanála and hope that they uphold the decision of Galway County Council. Hopefully, we can soon resign this fiasco to the history books, remembered only in the Biogas song.  Regardless of the outcome, if necessary, the Biogas Concern Group will continue the fight until the job is done.

The decision date by An Bord Pleanála is the 30th of April.