An Irish wind farm, constructed in 2003, caused a hugely damaging peat slide, killing 50,000 fish. Now the EU is seeking a large fine from the Irish government, to punish it for failing to comply with a 2008 ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Ireland could face a minimum fine of almost €1.7 million over the Derrybrien wind farm in south Galway. Tonnes of peat, dislodged during construction, polluted the Owendalulleegh river in October 2003, causing lasting damage to fish spawning beds.
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2008 that Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations as an EU member state because it had not carried out any assessment of a project that was likely to have significant effects on the environment before granting it planning permission.
The ruling also invalidated Irish legislation that allowed developments which violated EU environmental assessment rules to be given retention permission.
The commission will today ask the court to order the Irish government to pay at least €1,685,000 for the non-compliance, with the recommendation of a daily fine of €1,345.20 until compliance is achieved or there is a ruling in the present case, whichever comes first.
Damaging peat slides like that which occurred at Derrybrien, can release large amounts of carbon dioxide as the peat oxidises. The bog can decompose for hundreds of metres round every turbine, potentially releasing millions of tonnes of carbon. The process is slow, but frequently unstoppable, says Mike Hall of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. So many wind farms may eventually emit more carbon than an equivalent coal-fired power station.
This is a big risk for any construction project on peat bogs. The peat slide at Derrybrien in Ireland in 2003, probably cancelled out all the CO2 benefits of building the wind farm, as well as causing significant environmental disruption.