The long-awaited review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines finally seems to be moving forward with the publication of elements of a “preferred draft approach” in mid-June.
In one of his last acts as Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney T.D., in conjunction with his colleague, Denis Naughten, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, announced that the two departments had developed a preferred draft approach to address the key aspects of the review of the Guidelines. Minister Coveney said the approach strikes the appropriate balance between facilitating future wind energy projects, in the context of ensuring Ireland can deliver on our EU renewable energy targets, while simultaneously addressing the genuine concerns of local communities in the areas where wind farm developments are proposed.
After originally seeking submissions from the public by February 2014, the review of the Guidelines is long overdue and keenly awaited, by all parties. One of the latest delays arising from a European Court Judgement relating to a project in Belgium, will require the Guidelines to undergo a Strategic Environmental Assessment, to ensure that environmental considerations are fully integrated in the preparation of plans and programmes, which provide a framework for development consent or planning permission. It is anticipated the SEA and public consultation on the revised Guidelines will commence over the coming months, but the revised Guidelines may not be finalised under Q1 2018.
The key aspects of the proposed approach are set out below
The proposed new robust noise restriction limits are consistent with World Health Organisation standards, proposing a relative rated noise limit of 5dB(A) above existing background noise within the range of 35 to 43dB(A) for both day and night, with 43dB(A) being the maximum noise limit permitted. The rated limit will take account of certain noise characteristics specific to wind turbines (e.g. tonal, low frequency and amplitude modulation) and, where identified, the noise limit permitted will be further reduced to mitigate for these noise characteristics. These limits will be conditioned as part of the planning permission process.
The new noise limits are being proposed in tandem with the introduction of a new noise monitoring regime in relation to wind farms. Local authorities will enforce the noise limits as conditioned in the planning permission, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency who will provide independent noise monitoring of wind farms. It is proposed that where there is evidence of non-compliance with noise limits, wind turbines will be required to be turned off until compliance with the noise limits is proven.
Visual Amenity Setback
It is proposed to introduce a setback distance of 4 times the tip height between a wind turbine and the curtilage of a residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum setback of 500 metres. These setback requirements are for visual amenity purposes but it will simultaneously be required in all cases that the noise limits outlined must be complied with.
The proposed approach provides for the elimination of shadow flicker through technology and appropriate modelling at design stage and provide that wind turbines will turn off automatically to eliminate any shadow flicker arising.
Consultation Obligations on Developers
The proposals will require developers to have early and constructive consultation with communities on proposed wind farm developments before a planning application is made. In this regard, a Community Report will be required to be submitted with a planning application, outlining how the final proposal was shaped in response to those consultations.
Community dividend (or benefit) will be a core component of future wind farm development. This may encompass a range of measures and will vary according to the nature and scale of a project. However, it is proposed that developers will need to offer a form of community dividend that will ensure the project will be of enduring economic benefit to the communities concerned.
It is proposed, from a visual amenity aspect, that connections from wind farms to the national electricity grid will, except where ground conditions prevent it, in the future be underground.
Good Practice for Wind Energy Development Guidelines
The proposed approach will be further supported by the “Good Practice for Wind Energy Development Guidelines” issued by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in December 2016 for the wind industry.