Tag Archives: Wind Energy Guidelines

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.


Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016

It wasn’t just the Trump staff writers who employed ‘copy and paste’ these last few weeks it seems Sinn Féin have dusted down their Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014 and reintroduced it (subject to one additional section, which we shall discuss below) as the Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016.  This is in line with Motion 32 passed at the 2016 Ard Fheis, which seeks to “immediately implement legislation which would seek to impose strict setback distances on wind turbine developments.”

The 2016 version was introduced to the Dáil on 20 July 2016 by Brian Stanley TD who stated that:

This Bill seeks to introduce practical regulations that can be implemented so that wind farms are located in the right places. The regulations would allow for sensible development and the protection of our landscape and rural dwellers.

The location of wind farms is dealt with. The set back distance will be ten times the height of the wind turbine to the tip of the blade. Noise levels would have to be within WHO limits and shadow flicker from a propeller would not be permitted to pass over a house.

Legislative background

Sinn Féin are not the first legislators to tackle the growing disquiet and community disharmony with wind farm planning in Ireland.  In 2012 Labour Senator John Kelly introduced a Private Members Bill in the Seanad.  The Wind Turbines Bill 2012 stalled in the Seanad without any government support.  This was followed by another Private Members Bill this time introduced by Labour TD Willie Penrose, in the Dáil.  The Environment and Public Health (Wind Turbines) Bill 2012 mirrored the set back distances proposed by Senator Kelly and made a few token references to the Aarhus Convention and the duty of developers to engage in public consultation, with meaningful public participation, in relation to wind farm planning applications.  A further three copies of the Penrose Bill were introduced in 2013 by TDs:Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly.  All of the Bills along with the Sinn Féin Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014 fell with the dissolution of the previous Dáil.

Analysis of the Bill

As most elements of the 2016 Bill mirror those of the 2014 Bill we have copied those elements of our 2014 blog post below for your information:

Location of turbines

The Bill, at section 3, proposes that locations for the development of wind farms must be designated in County Development Plans  (CDPs).  Such designation must only be done with the approval of the elected members of the local authority.  Therefore applicants for permission will be statute barred from applying for planning permission in areas not designated for wind developmentin a CDP.  Set back distances are established, in section 6, on a proportional basis, with all turbines greater than 25 metres in height required to be located no less than ten times the maximum tip height of the turbine away from any dwelling.  No consent clause, to allow for closer siting, is provided for in the Bill.  Such deals would be clearly unlawful under section 8 of the Bill as would any similar contract with any person living within 3km, defined as the ‘host community’ of a wind farm.

Set back to apply to existing wind farms

Furthermore and most significantly, the Bill as currently drafted, will require existing wind farms to comply with these set back distances.   Section 7 provides that wind farm operators have one year from the enactment of the Bill to ensure compliance with the set back distances.  A further requirement in the Bill means that wind farm operators must notify residents within the set back zone and the relevant planning authority of their plans in relation to compliance with the set backs.  Compliance with the set back distances is also a matter which the Minister may consider when exercising functions in relation grant aid or financial assistance to wind farms including under the REFIT scheme.  Therefore failure to comply and remove turbines within the ten times set back zone may lead to a loss of REFIT assistance.   Failure to comply may also lead to further penalties under section 8 however these are not yet defined.

Noise and shadow flicker

The provisions relating to noise and shadow flicker (section 5) are relatively clear and require that all future applicants for permission and existing operators shall ensure:

(a) that the noise from the wind turbine does not exceed the noise limits specified in the World Health Organisation Guidelines for Community Noise (1999), or any preceding or replacement guidelines, and
(b) that the distance of the wind turbine is such that any shadow flicker from the turbine does not pass over the dwelling.

The compliance penalties of section 8 also apply to operators who do not adhere to the noise and shadow flicker requirements.  Again, these provision will relate to all existing wind farms, however no transitional procedures for existing wind farm operators are detailed in the Bill in relation to noise and shadow flicker.  Therefore no timeline for compliance is defined and it must be presumed to be effective from the date of enactment.

Public Consultation

A further section to be noted relates to the issue of public consultation in relation to wind farm planning applications.  Section 4 includes a few novel provisions in relation to the format of such consultation.   The standard newspaper notice for a planning application will now be required to include a copy of an ordinance survey map marked with the exact location of each proposed wind turbine.  In addition applicants for wind farm planning permission will be required to have notices broadcast on a local radio station broadcasting in the area of the proposed development to the effect that the developer is arranging a public meeting to be held at a named convenient time and in a named convenient location near to the proposed development, at which the public may submit, in writing or verbally any comments, information, analyses or opinions that they consider to be relevant to the proposed development.  A report from this public meeting must then be submitted, by the developer, to the local planning authority or An Bord Pleanála, as appropriate, as part of the planning process.  The meeting report must be part of the public file.

Health impact assessment

A final point to be noted is contained in Section 4 which details a range of information which must be included in any wind farm planning application.   Subsection 4(b)(ii) requires that a formal assessment in writing and a non-technical outline of the ‘potential impacts of the proposed [wind farm] construction on the physical and mental health of the host community’, that is anyone living within 3km of the proposed development, must be lodged with the local authority and public library in relation to the proposed wind farm.  The issue of health impact assessments is not novel and is required under the EIA Directive, however as pointed out by An Bord Pleanála’s senior inspector in his report (pages 46-48) on the Straboy wind farm oral hearing guidance is required in order to undertake such a health impact assessment.  A general review of wind farm planning applications indicates that it is rare, if ever, that a meaningful health impact assessment is undertaken in Ireland.  The Sinn Féin Bill does not provide guidance in relation to such an assessment but at least it does make a health impact assessment mandatory for all new developments.

Co-Ownership for Local Communities

The only change from the 2014 Bill is in relation to a new section 12 on Co-Ownership for Local Communities.  Sinn Féin like all other political parties have bought into the community acceptance model of planning and therefore see co-ownership of the wind farm as a solution.  Section 12 of the Bill provides that Wind Farm Developers must offer for sale to local residents, initially within 4km of a development, up to a 20% stake in the project.  If the full 20% not taken up within 12 months the wind farm developer must extend the offer to those living within 10km of the development for a further period of 6 months.

What is missing however is the Community Co-Operative element which Sinn Féin adopted motion 174 at their 2015 Ard Fheis and which provided that:

… this Ard Fheis calls for the granting of planning permission to an applicant for the development of Renewable Energy Generation of 1MW or above to be conditional upon the applicant entering into an agreement with the local authority to allocate 6.25% of company shares in the said development for the direct funding of community facilities in the vicinity of the development and for the co-operative ownership by the local community of a life interest in the development, that being the 6.25% of shares.

This 6.25% will be the minimum life interest the community co-operative can have in said development.  The allocation of said shares and any funds earned from such shares are to be held in trust by the local authority until a community co-operative can be formed for the local area. The community co-operative shall then allocate earnings from said shares to community projects and organisations in the immediate area.

Sinn Féin have clearly ditched their 2015 Ard Fheis motion, which forced free from compensation to the developer 6.25% ownership of the development into host community hands in favour of a forced shared investment offering model of up to 20% (developer gets paid for these shares).  It seems that the wind lobby have successfully overturned Sinn Féin policy adopted at an Ard Fheis.

Conclusion

The 2016 Bill is likely to remain in the legislative queue and shall not be passed in current Dáil.  It seems local communities threatened by wind farm developments must rely on the long awaited wind energy guidelines to provide some protection; the revision of the Guidelines began in January 2013 and remains incomplete with Minister Denis Naughten the latest to stone wall when questioned when they’ll be published.

Legislating for safe setbacks remains the only lasting solution to the problem facing local communities when faced by big wind.


Consultation on Draft Ministerial Direction

On the 22 July 2014 the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, notified Donegal County Council of his intent to issue a Direction pursuant to Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended).  The draft direction relates to Variation No. 2 to the County Donegal Development Plan 2012-2018 (as varied), which relates to wind farm planning and zoning in the county.

Regular readers will be aware that on 30 June 2014 Donegal Councillors passed a series of variations (known as variation no.2) to the wind farm planning sections of the County Development Plan.  The primary elements of the variation will see:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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.

However newly appointed Minister Alan Kelly has issued a draft direction to the Council which seeks to overturn these wind farm planning decisions taken by the elected members of Donegal County Council.   The Minister has two main issues, he claims:

  1. the elected members have either ignored or not adequately considered his submission on the matters made on 7 May 2014 which highlighted what the Minister considered to be inconsistencies of the varied plan with (i) the 2006 Wind Energy Guidelines, (ii) the Border Regional Authority Regional Planning Guidelines, and (iii) National targets for the generation of energy from wind ; and
  2. the decision by the elected members to alter the policies and objectives in regard to the wind energy objectives does not provide for proper planning and sustainable development and therefore the County Donegal development Plan 2012-2018 and is not in compliance with the requirements of s.9, s.10, s.12, and s.28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended).

The matter has been discussed twice at recent Council meetings and the elected members shall be making a submission to the Minister.  Chairman John Campbell has in many interviews (including on Morning Ireland) highlighted that the incorporation of national wind farm policies and targets in Donegal does not begin on a ‘blank canvas’ as there are considerable ecological constraints and the needs of local residents to consider when establishing what is proper planning and sustainable development of the county.

Despite what the Minister claims the Council have met all the statutory requirements in relation to sections 9, 10, 12 and 28 of the Planning Act.  The varied county development plan sets out a clear overall strategy for wind farm development in the county (s.10) and is clearly in line with the over-arching requirement to provide for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area (s.12).  With respect to consistency the local councillors have in so far as practicable been consistent with the plans, policies and strategies of the Minister, in so far as they relate to proper planning of the area (s.9).  Donegal councillors must balance the significant ecological constraints in the county, including the European and Irish statutory protection of the FWPM and sub-basins (s.10) and the importance to protect the amenity of the county’s residents with all national policies.

The balance achieved in the varied plan directs wind farm developers away (not an outright ban) from FWPM sites (this is similar to Kerry Council) and recognises a turbine height proportionate buffer zone around homes (unlike the blanket ban in Tipperary North who set a 1km setback).  The impact of a proportionate setback is two fold it directs large-scale (height) development away from homes but also ensures that where developers seek to introduce turbines closer to residential areas the scale and size of turbines will not prove incongruent or visually dominant on residential amenity and the receiving landscape.

In my opinion Donegal’s councillors have shown great ability in achieving a consistent balance in relation to the competing objectives and constraints within which they must plan for the county while setting a clear strategy for areas to be targeted for development and the acceptable height of turbines in those areas.

Written submissions or observations in respect of the draft direction may be made to Donegal Council and must be received no later than 5.00pm on the 18 August 2014.  All submissions shall be taken into consideration by the Minister before he takes a decision in relation to the draft direction.  Submissions can be made either:

  1. by email to donegalcdp@donegalcoco.ie; or
  2. by post to Mr. Denis Kelly, Senior Executive Planner, Central Planning Unit, Donegal County Council, County House, Lifford, Co. Donegal.

** It is important to note that this consultation is not on the merits of dezoning the FWPM area or the introduction of a setback.  The elected members under the requirements of s.12(11) and s.13 of the planning act have already decided that such zoning and setbacks are proper planning and sustainable development of the area.  The consultation is only in relation to the Minister’s powers (or not) to issue the direction under the Planning and Development Act (as amended) and his power to overturn the lawful and democratic decision of the Council.


Response to CEO Report on Donegal Wind Farm Planning Variations

As discussed previously on this blog (here, here) Donegal County Council will on Monday 30 June 2014 meet to consider and vote upon the proposed variations to the wind energy sections of the County Development Plan 2012-2018 (as amended).   As part of this process an unprecedented 3,326 submissions were received in response to the public consultation on the variations.  A summary of the submissions is available here.
As required by the Planning and Development Acts the Chief Executive of Donegal County Council has drafted a report on the proposed variations and this has been issued to the elected members for consideration.  The Chief Executive’s Report however discounts the vast majority of submissions – greater than 98% of the 3,326 – who support the proposals to grant greater protection to residential amenity, in assessing wind farm applications, through an express objective, and the establishment of a ten times turbine height setback from homes and centres of human habitation.  His report also fails to accept that the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM) sub-basin catchment areas protected in Irish and EU law should be designated as not favoured for wind farm development.  Again this proposal has the support of more than 98% of submissions received.
This post will not comment in detail on the Glenveagh variation.  Suffice to say – a total of 2,188 submissions were against weakening the protections of Glenveagh from wind farm development, with only 4 submissions in support of Fianna Fail Cllr Blaney’s proposal to weaken Glenveagh’s protection from wind farm development.  The Chief Executive has recommended that Glenveagh protections as currently defined remain in place.  It is the FWPM dezoning and the setback variations that I will address in detail here.
The Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM)
The Chief Executive’ s Report (page 25) in recommending not to catergorise the FWPM sub-basins as not favoured claims that:
the inclusion of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel Basin areas as ‘Not Favoured’ for wind energy projects is not evidence based and would be biased against a sector that may not be presenting the most significant risk to the FPM and may represent a blanket ban where appropriate mitigation measures may be feasible
This takes an extremely strained – down right wrong – interpretation of planning and environmental law.  This is extraordinary given the fact that the zoning of areas as open to consideration (favoured) for wind energy in the current Development Plan was undertaken despite the Department of Environment warning of a lack of evidence base to zone areas as favoured in the first place (see extract below from letter 30 March 2012 to Donegal Council):
DCC CDP Enviro NO EVIDENCE Base
Furthermore the FWPM populations and habitats are protected in Irish and EU law and the Sweetman judgment (paragraph 44) confirms that a plan can only be approved when the best scientific knowledge in the field – are certain that the plan or project will not have lasting adverse effects on the integrity of that site.  Donegal County Council have wrongly decided to shift this burden of proof away from themselves and to reverse it.
Despite the burden of proof falling on those proposing to zone these areas as favoured evidence does exist which confirms the risks wind farm and ancillary development pose to FWPM catchments.  For example the Straboy wind farm appeal near Glenties highlighted the issue in a clear manner.   The EPA STRIVE Report Management Strategies for the Protection of High Status Water Bodies (2007-2013) highlights the impact of wind farm development on the FWPM on the Oily river.  Such a not favoured zoning for FWPM catchments was also introduced in Kerry in 2013 and has worked well.  The evidence is there only Donegal County Council do not wish to see it.
The Council also claim that designating the FWPM areas as not favoured is equivalent to a ban.  This is not the case.   What is being proposed is not a ban.   The intention of the zoning as not favoured is intended to be interpreted as requiring a higher level of scrutiny for applications which may be made in these areas.  It does not exclude planning applications in those areas but it sets the onus of proof on the developer at a higher level to prove there will be no negative impact thus directing development away from these sensitive areas in the first instance.
Setback distance 10 times turbine height
The primary reason given as to why the introduction of a specific setback distance is not accepted by the Council is that it is not consistent with the Ministerial Wind Energy Guidelines 2006 and it is recommended that the Councils policy in relation to residential amenity and set back of turbines, be retained as consistent with the current Ministerial Guidelines.
An important point must be made here, there is currently no setback identified or provided for in Donegal.  The Council themselves in their submission on the review of the National (Ministerial) Noise Guidelines (Jan 2014) at point 3(b) on page two of their submission call for consideration of a ten times the tip height setback.   The Manager’s report and his recommendation are in conflict with this submission which was the outcome of a planning workshop held by Councillors on the issue.

A further more sinister point must be raised, the Department of the Environment has threatened the Council that establishing a ten times turbine height setback would lead them to issue a Ministerial Direction to reverse it.  No tacit reason for this threat has been identified.  The Irish Wind Energy Agency (IWEA) in their submission confirm that at least 9% of the County is still available for wind farm applications should a 1km exclusion zone from homes be put in place.  The average height of turbines in Donegal at present is less than 100m and Enercon E70’s are the most popular in current applications – overall height 99.5m.  Therefore a 10 times setback would equate to less than a 1km exclusion around homes.

Even with a 10 times setback and 100m turbines there remains almost 46,000 hectares (45,900) open for developers.  It is entirely unreasonable for the Council or the Minister to claim that the setback is a measure equivalent to a ban on wind farms in the County.  On average 10 hectares is required for a 100m tall turbine from this it is clear that there is ample area available outside of areas close to homes where developers should be directed to in the first instance.  It must also be noted that the current CDP runs until 2018 and if the setback is too restrictive it can then be reviewed.
Role of elected Councillors in planning
Finally, the power to vary the CDP is provided under s.13 of the Planning and Development Acts to empower Cllrs to ensure planning policy is proper and sustainable for the area (in this case the County of Donegal).  Blunt application of national policy would pepper the county with wind farms in inappropriate locations.  Varying the plan in a measured and prudent way by providing a setback from homes and protecting ecologically sensitive species and habitats represents best practice in planning.

A few thoughts on the Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014

A Bill to regulate the development of wind turbines in Ireland will be initiated in Dáil Éireann by Sinn Féin TD Michael Colreavy tomorrow 13 March 2014.   The Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014 is the first legislative foray by the party south of the border on the vexed issue of wind farm planning.  Despite the title and associated pre-election PR, issued by the party, Sinn Féin are at pains to point out that the Bill does not mean that they are opposed to wind farms.  They claim the Bill merely proposes to restrict the development of industrial wind farms which, if allowed to progress under the existing guidelines, will blight the countryside and divide communities for years to come.  Nevertheless if the Bill as proposed were to be passed into law it would have significant impacts on the wind industry in Ireland.  

Previous wind turbines legislation

It is important to map out some of the legislative context for this Bill.  This is not the first legislative effort to tackle the growing disquiet and community disharmony with wind farm planning in Ireland.  In 2012 Labour Senator John Kelly introduced a Private Members Bill in the Seanad.  The Wind Turbines Bill 2012 stalled in the Seanad without any government support.  This was followed by another Private Members Bill this time introduced by Labour TD Willie Penrose, in the Dáil.  The Environment and Public Health (Wind Turbines) Bill 2012 mirrored the set back distances proposed by Senator Kelly and made a few token references to the Aarhus Convention and the duty of developers to engage in public consultation, with meaningful public participation, in relation to wind farm planning applications.

A further three copies of the Penrose Bill were introduced in 2013 by TDs: Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly.  The three TDs later explained that the purpose of initiating the three Bills concurrently was to have them included in the Friday lottery for Private Member’s Bills which may, if drawn, then be debated in the House.   Each of the Bills, primarily seeks to set a minimum distance between wind turbines and residential premises.  The formula for the so called ‘set back’ would be as follows:

If the height of the wind turbine generator is: (a) greater than 25 metres, but does not exceed 50 metres, the minimum distance requirement is 500 metres; (b) greater than 50 metres, but does not exceed 100 metres, the minimum distance requirement is 1,000 metres; (c) greater than 100 metres, but does not exceed 150 metres, the minimum distance requirement is 1,500 metres; (d) greater than 150 metres, the minimum distance requirement is 2,000 metres.

If passed into law a local authority or An Bord Pleanála could not grant permission for a wind farm unless the set back distances were complied with.  The Bills would have no impact on existing wind farms.

The Sinn Fein Bill 2014

The proposed Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014 seems to be a direct reaction to the proposed large-scale export projects in the midlands and an effort to set minimum statutory set back distances from turbines to ‘dwellings’.  With respect to the export of electricity generated from wind, section 2 of the Bill proposes to prevent such export until Ireland is ‘deemed’ inter alia to be ‘self-sufficient in the generation and consumption of electrical power.’  Self-sufficient is loosely defined as meaning that the level of electrical power generated from renewable sources (including wind) is deemed, by the Minister for the Environment, as sufficient to meet demand.  There are many interesting issues which could be explored in relation to this proposal and wording however it seems Sinn Féin are determined that no wind shall be exported until domestic demand is first satisfied and subsequently only excess supply, defined as ‘excess product’ in section 2, can then be exported.

Location of turbines

The Bill, at section 3, proposes that locations for the development of wind farms must be designated in County Development Plans  (CDPs).  Such designation must only be done with the approval of the elected members of the local authority.  Therefore applicants for permission will be statute barred from applying for planning permission in areas not designated for wind developmentin a CDP.  Set back distances are established, in section 6, on a proportional basis, with all turbines greater than 25 metres in height required to be located no less than ten times the maximum tip height of the turbine away from any dwelling.  No consent clause, to allow for closer siting, is provided for in the Bill.  Such deals would be clearly unlawful under section 8 of the Bill as would any similar contract with any person living within 3km, defined as the ‘host community’ of a wind farm.

Set back to apply to existing wind farms

Furthermore and most significantly, the Bill as currently drafted, will require existing wind farms to comply with these set back distances.   Section 7 provides that wind farm operators have one year from the enactment of the Bill to ensure compliance with the set back distances.  A further requirement in the Bill means that wind farm operators must notify residents within the set back zone and the relevant planning authority of their plans in relation to compliance with the set backs.  Compliance with the set back distances is also a matter which the Minister may consider when exercising functions in relation grant aid or financial assistance to wind farms including under the REFIT scheme.  Therefore failure to comply and remove turbines within the ten times set back zone may lead to a loss of REFIT assistance.   Failure to comply may also lead to further penalties under section 8 however these are not yet defined.

Noise and shadow flicker

The provisions relating to noise and shadow flicker (section 5) are relatively clear and require that all future applicants for permission and existing operators shall ensure:

(a) that the noise from the wind turbine does not exceed the noise limits specified in the World Health Organisation Guidelines for Community Noise (1999), or any preceding or replacement guidelines, and
(b) that the distance of the wind turbine is such that any shadow flicker from the turbine does not pass over the dwelling.

The compliance penalties of section 8 also apply to operators who do not adhere to the noise and shadow flicker requirements.  Again, these provision will relate to all existing wind farms, however no transitional procedures for existing wind farm operators are detailed in the Bill in relation to noise and shadow flicker.  Therefore no timeline for compliance is defined and it must be presumed to be effective from the date of enactment.

Public Consultation

A further section to be noted relates to the issue of public consultation in relation to wind farm planning applications.  Section 4 includes a few novel provisions in relation to the format of such consultation.   The standard newspaper notice for a planning application will now be required to include a copy of an ordinance survey map marked with the exact location of each proposed wind turbine.  In addition applicants for wind farm planning permission will be required to have notices broadcast on a local radio station broadcasting in the area of the proposed development to the effect that the developer is arranging a public meeting to be held at a named convenient time and in a named convenient location near to the proposed development, at which the public may submit, in writing or verbally any comments, information, analyses or opinions that they consider to be relevant to the proposed development.  A report from this public meeting must then be submitted, by the developer, to the local planning authority or An Bord Pleanála, as appropriate, as part of the planning process.  The meeting report must be part of the public file.

Health impact assessment

A final point to be noted is contained in Section 4 which details a range of information which must be included in any wind farm planning application.   Subsection 4(b)(ii) requires that a formal assessment in writing and a non-technical outline of the ‘potential impacts of the proposed [wind farm] construction on the physical and mental health of the host community’, that is anyone living within 3km of the proposed development, must be lodged with the local authority and public library in relation to the proposed wind farm.  The issue of health impact assessments is not novel and is required under the EIA Directive, however as pointed out by An Bord Pleanála’s senior inspector in his report (pages 46-48) on the Straboy wind farm oral hearing guidance is required in order to undertake such a health impact assessment.  A general review of wind farm planning applications indicates that it is rare, if ever, that a meaningful health impact assessment is undertaken in Ireland.  The Sinn Féin Bill does not provide guidance in relation to such an assessment but at least it does make a health impact assessment mandatory for all new developments.

Conclusion

It is of course unlikely that the Government parties will adopt the proposed Bill.  Therefore many of the proposals will remain just that, mere proposals.  Sinn Féin know this all too well and the Bill will be employed as an important tool in their Local and European Election campaigns, especially in unfortunate communities who are currently targeted for wind farm development.  Nevertheless the ten times maximum tip height set back has gained almost universal acceptance by local community groups who wish to see development regulated and it is good to see it now being adopted by the political parties.

Minister O’Sullivan’s targeted review of the wind energy guidelines to which more than 7,000 submissions were made is due to conclude in June 2014, with the new revised guidelines to be issued then.  The Department are, for now, stubbornly sticking to a 500m set back distance from homes to turbines.  How this issue plays out on the door steps and the ballot boxes in the May elections is likely to have a more significant impact on the revised set back to be included in the guidelines than any private members or opposition party Bill.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to use your Local and European Election votes wisely in May as it will impact on the future of wind farm planning in Ireland!


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