Tag Archives: Freedom of Information

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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OCEI: Delays remain for AIE appeals

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Some of our followers are already aware of the power of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations (AIE) and their importance in keeping policy makers and public bodies in check.  Those who are will also be aware of the long delays which occur when FOI and AIE requests are appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) or Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI).

A quick review of the recent decisions list highlights a phrase common to all:

I regret the delay in concluding this review: it arose due to a shortage of resources in my Office, which has now been addressed.

On reading this most people would now understand that the long delays on appeals, and resource issues, at the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information are now over.  However, a friend of our group had reason to make an appeal to the OCEI recently.  After waiting nearly seven weeks he wrote to the OCEI seeking an update on his appeal only to be told that the appeal as being processed by the Support Unit and they would notify him as soon as the Commissioner for Environmental Information  decided whether or not to accept the appeal.

This raised alarm bells and he followed up with a number of queries in relation to processing appeals and expected timelines.  We have to say we are shocked by the response of the OCEI:

Our best current estimate is that, if a case is accepted today, an investigator would not be in a position to commence actively working on the case for at least six months.

Sadly it seems the the Commissioner for Environmental Information has been overstating the effect of the additional resources he has received.  It seems an appeal to his office can now take about 7 weeks to be accepted but then must wait for an additional six months before an investigator begins working on it.  Bearing in mind that a request has to go through an initial decision and internal review before it makes its way to the OCEI access to environmental information through the AIE regulations may take at least a year, in particular where public bodies object to release.  This seems to run contrary to the principles of timeliness of access contained in national and international law which underpin the AIE regulations.

The lack of resources at the OCEI has not yet been adequately addressed.

 

 


A year since turbine collapse and the secrecy continues

Release of turbine collapse information and the public interest

On 22 March 2013 in moderate winds a Vestas V52-850KW wind turbine collapsed at the Loughderryduff wind farm at Maas, between Glenties and Ardara in south west Donegal.  The Loughderrryduff wind farm had nine such turbines and is contracted to supply Energia in Ireland.  Debris from the catastrophic tower collapse was scattered over a  significant zone and thankfully no one was injured in the incident.

Despite this incident occurring one year ago no serious incident report detailing investigations and possible outcomes has never been made public.

Loughderryduff Turbine 22 Mar 13

Donegal County Council response

The local authority Donegal County Council continue to refuse to publish information they have on the issue.  So, what information does the Council have in relation to the Loughderryduff turbine collapse?  In this regard a number of reports into the collapse have been highlighted by the Council themselves, namely:

  1. Loss Assessors Report that Mr. Heaney, Director of Community, Culture and Planning, stated at the April 2013 Council meeting (see in particular C/189/13 pp.20-25) would be made available to the council;
  2. Vestas: Preliminary Incident Report;
  3. Report of the company’s (North West Wind Limited’s) own engineers which was to be forwarded to the Health and Safety Authority of Ireland as confirmed by Mr. Heaney, Director of Community, Culture and Planning, at the April 2013 Council meeting;
  4. Report of the company’s (North West Wind Limited’s) own engineers which deemed the further eight turbines safe to be restated (this was confirmed by Mr. Heaney, Director of Community, Culture and Planning, at the April 2013 Council meeting);
  5. Report of the Health and Safety Authority of Ireland into the turbine collapse;
  6. Reports and records relating to the Council’s own investigations into the matter; and
  7. Reports which may be commissioned by Energia who claim to have contracted energy from Loughderryduff.

However requests to the Council for copies of such reports including those made under Freedom of Information and Access to Information on the Environment legislation have been refused.  The Council’s response is that it cannot be released:

Having regard to the authorship of the report, to the circumstances of its commissioning, to its content, and to the circumstances by which it was voluntarily furnished in confidence to the Council.

Subsequent correspondence from a senior planner in Donegal County Council from October 2013 clearly sets out their position – they view the reason for the collapse as an “operational issue” which they claim they have no remit to deal with, see below:

There is a Preliminary Incident Report which was carried out by Vestas (the turbine manufacturers). The wind farm owners agreed to make this report available to Council officials to inform officials on the turbine collapse incident.  As the report was considered to contain commercially sensitive information it was agreed that DCC would not make the report available in the public domain.  It was evident from the report that the collapse was solely an operational issue.  As such there is no direct implications or responsilities [sic.] on the matter for DCC.  The turbine collapse is defined as a work place incident and therefore falls within the remit of the Health & Safety Authority.
The Preliminary Incident Report will not be made available to the public as same was given in confidence and is considered to contain commercially sensitive information – even if same was sought under FOI it’s release is exempted under the FOI Act for these reasons.

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