The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, T.D. and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, T.D., have today (12 December 2019) launched a public consultation on proposed revisions to the Wind Energy Development Guidelines. The guidelines relate to onshore wind developments and set the national policy context for the incorporation of wind energy considerations in local authority development plans and for the determination of planning applications and appeals by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in respect of wind energy developments.
The draft guidelines, when finalised, will affect future planning applications and considerations for future wind energy development proposals. These will include the renewal and repowering of existing wind energy development consents.
The draft guidelines propose the following main changes to the current Guidelines:
- New noise standards: The draft guidelines include proposed new standards aimed at reducing noise nuisance from wind energy developments for local residents and communities. The proposed new standards are in line with the most up-to-date international standards, as incorporated in the 2018 World Health Organisation Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region. The permitted noise levels will take account of certain noise characteristics specific to wind energy projects i.e. tonal, amplitude modulation and low frequency noise and provide penalties for tonal noise and amplitude modulation and a threshold for low frequency noise above specified limits which, if breached, will result in turbine shut down. The implementation of a new robust noise monitoring framework is also proposed.
- Setback distance: The draft guidelines require a setback distance for visual amenity purposes of four times the tip height between a wind turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property in the vicinity of the proposed development, subject to a minimum mandatory setback distance of 500 metres. This setback requirement is also subject to the need to comply with the proposed noise limits outlined above.
- Automatic shadow flicker control mechanisms: Automatic shadow flicker control mechanisms will be required to be in place for the operational duration of a wind energy development project. It will be a specific condition of planning permissions that should shadow flicker occur and impact existing properties, the relevant wind turbines must be shut down.
- Community consultation: Wind energy developers will be mandatorily required to engage in active public consultation with the local community at an early stage. In this regard, they will have to prepare and submit a ‘Community Report’ as part of their planning application outlining how they have consulted and engaged with the local community regarding the proposed development and how they will work with the local community to allow for the free flow of information between the community and the developer at all stages in the project.
- Community dividend: Wind energy developers will have to provide an opportunity for the proposed development to be of enduring economic or social benefit to the local community, whether by facilitating community investment/ ownership in the project, other types of benefits/ dividends, or a combination of the two.
- Grid connections: The draft guidelines contain updated guidance regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment-related requirements in respect of wind energy development projects and their related grid connections, arising from a High Court Judicial Review (O Grianna and others v. An Bord Pleanála).
Commenting on the draft guidelines as he launched the public consultation, Minister Murphy said: “After much work, analysis and consultation, we are publishing draft Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines which are aimed at striking a better balance between addressing the needs of local communities and maintaining Ireland’s ability to deliver on its renewable energy ambitions.”
“Our aim in these draft guidelines is to provide greater consistency of approach in planning for onshore wind energy development; thereby providing greater certainty and clarity to the planning system, the wind energy industry and to local communities.”
Minister Bruton said: “We are exiting from peat and coal to generate electricity and moving to clean, renewable sources of power, like wind and solar as part of the Climate Action Plan. By 2030, 70% of our electricity will be generated from renewables. These guidelines are crucial to delivering the step up that is required and will give clarity to project leaders. A key part will be ensuring local communities are consulted on and benefit from projects in their area. We must ensure those living close to large scale projects are included in their development.”
Minister Murphy concluded by inviting the public and all interested parties to give their views. “Onshore wind energy projects are of interest to both those developing them and those in local communities. They are also of national interest in terms of enabling Ireland to meet its ambitious renewable energy targets. I would encourage all parties with an interest in this area to have their say on the draft guidelines before the consultation closes on February 19th 2020.”