On the 3rd
of August 2017, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government issued Circular PL5/2017 to provide an update on the review of the wind energy and renewable policies in development plans, and the advice contained within a previous Departmental Circular PL20-13. Circular PL20-13 advised that local authorities should defer amending their existing Development Plan policies in relation to wind energy and renewable energy generally as part of either the normal cyclical six-yearly review or plan variation processes and should instead operate their existing development plan policies and objectives until the completion of a focused review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006. The new circular (PL05/2017) reconfirms that this continues to be the advice of the Department.
The Department acknowledge that the review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006 has taken considerably longer to conclude than envisaged, and they have therefore issued new Planning Guidelines under Section 28 of the Act, entitled “Interim Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Statutory Plans, Renewable Energy and Climate Change”, and an associated Information Note. These documents are accessible via the following link
The interim guidelines that have issued clearly state that it is a specific planning policy requirement under Section 28(1C) of the Act that in making a development plan with policies or objectives that relate to wind energy developments that a Planning Authority must:
- Ensure that overall national renewable energy policy and targets are acknowledged and documented;
- The Plan must indicate how its implementation over its effective period will contribute to realising overall national targets on renewable energy and climate change mitigation in particular regard to wind energy production and potential wind resource, and
- Demonstrate detailed compliance with the above and ensure that all required associated assessments take account of climate change factors (for example should a plan provide significant limitation or constraint on renewable energy projects (including Wind Turbines) it will be a material consideration in the SEA process in relation to effects on climatic factors.
The guidance and circular that have been issued by the Department effectively reinforce and clarify the fact that it is incumbent on Planning Authorities to implement national policies through their development plan processes, and highlight that the need to combat climate change is to the fore in considering all planning policies and objectives contained within a County Development Plan. National climate change targets, objectives and policies are detailed and articulated in the National Renewable Energy Action Plan, 2010, the Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012 – 2020, the White Paper on Energy Policy – Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015 – 2030, and the National Mitigation Plan, July 2017.
The documentation circulated by the Department is also a clear indication of continued national support for on-shore wind energy as an appropriate and effective means of achieving national climate change targets. The installed capacity of renewable energy generated 28% of the State’s electricity in 2016. In order to meet our climate change targets this needs to be at 40% plus. Therefore, while a significant amount of capacity has been installed this needs to be greatly increased. The National Mitigation Plan (July 2017) notes the following in this regard:
“To date, wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity. The total amount of renewable generation connected to the grid at December 2016 was 3,120MW, of which wind generation was approximately 2,796MW, hydro was 238MW and biomass was 86MW19. Eirgrid estimates that a total of between 3,900MW and 4,300MW of onshore renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland to achieve 40% renewable electricity by 2020. This leaves a further requirement of between 780MW and 1,180MW to be installed by 2020 if the 2020 electricity target is to be reached, requiring an increased rate of installation.”
The Department circular also reaffirms the four key aspects of the preferred draft approach being developed to address the key aspects of the review of the 2006 Wind Energy guidelines as follows:
- the application of a more stringent noise limit, consistent with World Health Organisation noise standards, in tandem with a new robust noise monitoring regime, to ensure compliance with noise standards;
- a visual amenity setback of 4 times the turbine height between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum distance of 500 metres between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property
- the elimination of shadow flicker; and
- the introduction of new obligations in relation to engagement with local communities by wind farm developers along with the provision of community benefit measures