The former Airtricity boss Eddie O'Connor has suffered a setback in his controversial plan to build 450 wind turbines in the midlands.

Mr O'Connor's Mainstream Renewable Power company has already paid €1.5 million to 500 land owners in seven counties.

However he is now set to delay design work - and crucial consultations with residents in the region - for nine months so that an environmental assessment can be carried out.

At a media briefing in Tullamore, Mainstream executives said they were confident that the majority of the proposed wind farms will go ahead after the environmental assessment has been completed, helping to create 3,000 jobs during construction.

However the company has accepted that if revised guidelines for the turbines extend the setback distance for local residents to 2km, as has been sought by opponents to wind farms in the midlands, the turbines would not be feasible and could not go ahead.

Mainstream say they are working on proposals for a comprehensive new tourism attraction that should be based on one of the wind farm sites in north Offaly, which they say it could attract up to 100,000 visitors.

Andy Kinsella from Mainstream accepted that Eddie O'Connor may have annoyed residents with comments he made on the RTÉ Prime Time programme last month, but he said Mr O'Connor has since apologised, did not intend to insult people in the region and had a track record of creating jobs.