The Planning and Development Act 2000 allows an enhanced approval procedure for planning applications for wind farms with more than 25 turbines or an output of greater than 50MW, where the Planning Appeals Board considers that the project is of strategic, economic or social importance, contributes substantially to fulfilling the National Spatial Strategy or regional planning guidelines or would have a significant effect on the area of more than one planning authority.
In 2006, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (as it then was) published Wind Energy Development Guidelines, which set the national policy context to be applied by planning authorities in the determination of planning applications for wind farms.
On 13 June 2017, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, announced a preferred draft approach to address the key aspects of the review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines.
The key aspects of the preferred draft approach are:
- new noise restriction limits of a relative rated noise limit of 5dB(A) above existing background noise within the range of 35-43dB(A) for both day and night, with 43dB(A) being the maximum noise limit permitted;
- for visual amenity purposes, each turbine should be set back, from the curtilage of a residential property, by a distance of at least four times its tip height, subject to a mandatory minimum setback of 500 metres;
- the adoption of technology that will shut off each wind turbine automatically to eliminate any shadow flicker;
- a Community Report, which describes how the proposed wind farm was designed in response to consultation with communities, will have to be submitted along with each planning application;
- the applicant will need to offer a form of community dividend, that will ensure the project is of enduring economic benefit to the communities concerned;
- from a visual amenity aspect, grid connections to wind farms should be underground; and
- the proposed approach will be further supported by the Good Practice for Wind Energy Development Guidelines, issued in 2016 by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the draft approach to the revised guidelines will be undertaken before they are finalised. Following the completion of the SEA, the guidelines will be finalised and issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and will apply to planning applications for future wind energy development proposals.