An Bord Pleanála has refused planning permission for a large wind farm in east Connemara, overturning an earlier decision by Galway County Council.
The development at Lettermuckoo, Muckanaghkillew, would have comprised 27 wind turbines 139 metres tall, as well as access roads, electricity substations, cabling and control buildings.
The wind farm would have had the potential to produce enough electricity to supply almost 40,000 households with power each year, the equivalent of three quarters of households in Co Galway.
The 1000 hectare site, near Rossaveal, is currently used for agriculture and turf-cutting.
The An Bord Pleanála inspector reviewing the case recommended that permission be granted subject to 21 conditions being met.
However, the board refused the planned development on a number of grounds, including that it would be an excessively dominant feature and visually obtrusive form of development in the Connemara landscape.
It said the Connemara landscape is one of the principal assets of the tourism industry in Co Galway and the proposed development is located on a prominent site in east Connemara in a an area which is part of the Connemara Bog Complex Special Area of Conservation.
The site is also within an area with a high-value coastal tourism infrastructure and fisheries resource, it said.
It found that the development would erode the visual and environmental amenity of this area and would contravene the objectives of the County Development Plan 2009-2015 to protect this sensitive landscape designation.
The plan was developed as a collaborative partnership between a wind farm development company and a group of 20 local landowners.
It was estimated that construction would have taken 18 months and would have generated employment during that phase. However, just 10 maintenance personnel would have been needed at the wind farm once it was up and running. The wind farm was expected to have a lifespan of between 20 and 25 years.
A 10-year planning permission was granted for the development by Galway County Council - against the recommendation of its planner - in March of this year.
However, a number of parties had objected to the plan, including Inland Fisheries Ireland who voiced concerns that the pressures in the catchments affected would impact fish populations.
An Taisce also objected to the proposals, arguing the development would have a detrimental impact on the peatlands and natural life in the area.
Responding to An Bord Pleanála's decision, An Taisce said it had considered the site formed part of the internationally significant mountain bog and lake Connemara landscape area.
It said the decision follows a number of other similar refusals of permission for wind farm projects by An Bord Pleanála.
This, it claimed, highlights the need for an effective national strategy for future wind energy development to reconcile the imperative of meeting renewable energy targets, while at the same time protecting biodiversity and our most iconic landscapes.
Consultants disappointed by decision
Reacting to the news, consultants acting on behalf of the wind farm development company. Gaoi An Iarthar Teo, said they were disappointed with the decision.
Brian Keville, of McCarthy Keville O'Sullivan Planning and Environmental Consultants, said they took heart from the inspector's report which recommended that the development be granted permission.
He said the €150m wind farm had the potential to generate enough green renewable energy to service 40,000 homes. It would also have put around €750,000 a year into the local economy through payments to landowners and local community funds - an area which is experiencing a new wave of mass unemployment and emigration, Mr Keville said.
He said those involved in the project would now study the inspector's report in detail, before deciding what their next step should be.
He said Galway County Council had recently completed a new draft wind energy strategy, which said the area concerned was in principle acceptable for windfarms and today's decision calls into question the point of county councils going to the bother of producing such plans.