Category Archives: Wind Energy Guidelines

Minister concedes to setback and zoning for wind farms in Donegal

In the end Minister Coveney skulked out of the legal hearings which would have tested his powers under section 31 of the Planning and Development Act to overturn the democratically passed variation no. 2 to Donegal County Development Plan, dealing with wind energy development.

Councillor John Campbell who took the legal challenge announced the end of this, his second successful foray in the courts against a Ministerial direction, on twitter, where he also highlighted the extent of the shameful delaying tactics of the Minister and his Department:

What is notable is that when tested neither the Minister nor his Department were able to open any documents or arguments in support of their position in court, they merely used the section 31 process to delay the effective date of the variation passed by Donegal County Council.  This has meant that for 3 years local residents and the receiving environment have been exposed to unnecessary risk and unwarranted expense in order to defend the peaceful enjoyment and amenity of their homes and to ensure that their (and your) environment is not subjected to unsustainable wind farm development.

As a reminder the primary elements of the variation as passed see:

  • the designation of Areas of Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM) including the catchments identified in the Sub-Basin Management Plans for Clady Eske, Glaskeelin, Leannan, Owencarrow and Owenea (as listed in S.I. 296 of 2009) as not favoured for wind farm development;
  • the inclusion of an objective to ensure that wind energy developments do not adversely impact upon the existing residential amenities of residential properties, and other centres of human habitation (*‘Centre of Human Habitation’ includes schools, hospitals, churches, residential buildings or buildings used for public assembly’); and
  • the establishment of a set back distance of ten times the tip height of proposed turbines from residential properties and other centres of human habitation.

Councillor Campbell had last year successfully obtained an order of the high court quashing a 2014 Ministerial Direction made by then Minister Alan Kelly.  We have blogged extensively on the background to Variation no. 2 (here, here,here), the subsequent section 31 Direction issued by Minister Kelly (here,here), Cllr Campbell’s successful first court challenge; the subsequent report by the Inspector (Hendrik van der Kamp) appointed by Minister Coveney , and the granting of leave to Councillor Campbell for a second court challenge.

In this regard it is important to note that Inspector van der Kamp found in his report that:

  • Donegal County Council did not ignore or take insufficient account of the submissions made by the Minister in May 2014;
  • Variation no. 2 did not significantly impact on the internal coherence of the County Development Plan; and
  • Variation no. 2 did not make the County Development Plan inconsistent with national and regional policies or targets

Furthermore it is also important to note that the Minister and Department were also in possession of the RPS modelling on wind farm planning and yet decided to push through with a direction which failed to protect the Freshwater Pearl Mussel and blocked safe setbacks from homes.

This seemingly irrational behaviour of supporting wind farm development despite the evidence base to the contrary was also mirrored by Mr. Seamus Neely, Donegal County Manager who shocked observers with his submission on the van der Kamp report (see: Neely to DHPLG – S.31 Draft Direction – 1 Sept 2016).  In contacts with us, many have questioned his judgement and future credibility when it comes to wind farm planning, in particular as Donegal County Council is grant aided under the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme to protect the Freshwater Pearl Mussel and have prepared draft guidance on the interaction with wind farm as far back as 2014 (see: fwpm draft windfarm guidance 2014).  Ignoring such strong evidence based guidance to promote the wind industry raises many, many questions.  These are issues we will return to in further blog posts.

For now, congratulations to Councillor Campbell and the many who assisted in the background and foreground, in particular the Glenties Wind Farm Information Group (GWIG) and Mr. Peter Crossan, who together with Councillor Campbell have delivered both evidence based zoning and safe setbacks for the people of Donegal.

For those interested the high court references for the two cases are:

  • Campbell -v- Minister for Housing Planning Community and Local Gov 2016/976 JR; and
  • Campbell -v- Minister for Environment, Community & Local Gov 2014/712 JR.
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Irish government modelling of wind energy potential

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Today, 16 January 2017, almost four years on from the first public call for submissions on the proposed revision of the 2006 wind energy guidelines, we are sharing information in relation to modelling undertaken by the RPS Group, in 2015, which was commissioned by the Sustainable Authority of Ireland (SEAI) for the then Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources (now the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment) and the then Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (now the department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government).

RPS were commissioned to model Ireland’s land area and power generating potential from wind energy developments, taking into account a number of variable factors including:

  • Turbine size, type and hub/tip height;
  • Noise and shadow flicker;
  • Proposed setback distances;
  • Minimum wind speeds;
  • Terrain contours; and
  • Ground factors.

The background to this modelling was the proposed technical revision to the Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006. As regular readers of this blog will be aware the proposed technical revision has turned into a political hot potato with no Minister yet willing to stand up to the wind industry, despite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment declaring that the current guidelines are ‘not fit for purpose’. The proposed Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and further consultation have still not been commenced.

Nevertheless, the discussion in the RPS Group, Report on Wind Turbine Noise Modelling, of 11 May 2015 is startling for most communities, as RPS through consultations with the wind industry expect tip heights of between 150m to 175m to be the norm for future developments, with 200m tip heights being required for some low wind sites.  Possible setback distances emerging from the acoustic modelling are also quiet frightening (see copy of table 3.2 below).

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Documents, in PDF, we are sharing are:

Further iterations of the modeling then followed which were also released:

Please note these documents were shared with us by a friend of this blog, who gained access to them under the Access to Environmental Information Regulations.  Access was only granted following a number of Appeals to the Commissioner for Environmental Information; with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, further delaying release for three months despite the Commissioners decision.  We are heartened that the Commissioner in deciding that these documents should be released stated:

In my opinion, it is at least possible that disclosure of the withheld information would help the public to scrutinise the reasons put forward by politicians in delaying this important policy decision.  I therefore accept that this public interest argument would favour disclosure now, before a decision is made.

… if disclosure were to lead to a submission being made to the Department which was of such import that it could not be ignored, such a submission would appear to be highly important and very much in the public interest. There is a strong public interest in making the decision [in relation to the revised guidelines] as soon as possible, but there is also a strong public interest in getting it right.
For these reasons I am not persuaded that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. As that is my conclusion, I must find that refusal to provide access to the withheld information is not justified on this ground.

With the Commissioners words ringing in our ears we are calling on our readers and followers to review, scrutinise and find flaws in the reasons relied upon by your politicians and policy makers.

We are also welcoming guest blogs on this issue and if any of you out there want to provide some much needed technical analysis of these documents and to publish on this blog (or to make a valuable submission to the Minister), please e-mail us at: cawt.donegal@gmail.com.


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