Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Wind Energy Guidelines

6:50 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Harkin for raising this issue. Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, all forms of development, unless specifically exempt under the Act or associated regulations, require planning permission. This includes wind farm developments which are also subject to dedicated detailed planning guidance, that is, the 2006 wind farm development guidelines, which developers are required to have regard to in drawing up their proposals in the first instance, and the development of their proposals at construction stage after the granting of planning permission. Furthermore, all wind farm development comprising more than five turbines having a total energy output greater than 5 MW are subject to a detailed environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment requirements, as mandated by the EU, EIA and habitats directives, as transposed into national legislation under the planning and heritage legislative codes.

These obligations are required to be adhered to as part of the planning consent process. The 2006 wind energy development guidelines are particularly important in offering advice to planning authorities on planning for wind energy through the development plan process, for instance, in determining appropriate areas or locations in the local development plan where wind farm development may be considered, as well as in subsequently determining applications for planning permissions.

It is acknowledged that peatlands, in particular, can be damaged by the inappropriate siting of wind energy developments on associated infrastructure, including the construction of new or improved access roads. Accordingly, in considering applications for wind energy developments, planning authorities should ensure that an assessment is made as to whether proposed works are liable to have significant effects on the environment, including peatlands, and, accordingly, should consider requiring developments to undertake peat stability assessments when developing project proposals for wind energy development on peatlands.

With regard to the construction phase of wind energy developments, the guidelines outline a number of measures to minimise the impact on peatlands, including minimising habitat disturbance and hydrological disruption. These measures generally include: undertaking a thorough ground investigation, including hydrogeological investigations, where appropriate, and a detailed evaluation of the nature of the peat and associated risk of instability during the construction or operation of wind farms; avoiding construction in wet areas or easily eroded soils; avoiding the excavation or blocking of drains, where possible; constructing roads to take the required vehicular loadings having regard to overall stability; undertaking a geotechnical analysis to identify the optimum location for each turbine; and the placing and storing of excavated material to ensure it does not give rise to slope or site instability.

The guidelines further advise that the project supervisors for design and construction phases should be appointed to be responsible for co-ordinating the design of the project, designing out risks at source so as to minimise risks to the construction of operational phases, undertaking peat stability risk assessments to identify zones of high risk on the site to help ensure the site remains stable during construction, safeguarding the risk of peat slides and co-ordinating the work of all of the contractors engaged on the site.

Notwithstanding the detailed advice outlined in the guidelines, there have, unfortunately, been a number of well publicised peat slides over the past number of years so, including Derrybrien in County Galway and Meenbog in Donegal in late 2020. The Derrybrien case, for which Ireland has been subject to fines by the European Court of Justice, has been well documented. It is fair to say lessons have been and should be learned from that particular experience.

The more recent Meenbog case is still the subject of detailed investigation for the purposes of asserting the actual cause of the slide, be it construction works on the site, extreme and sustained weather events over a short period of time or other factors, or a combination of factors. An interagency investigation into the slippage involving the Loughs Agency, Donegal County Council, the EPA, Irish Water, NPWS and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is ongoing.

As the Deputy said, we were on Shass Mountain last week. The report of the interagency group will probably be available to us in March or April next year and will give us an account of different peat slide events. The one in Shass Mountain was most likely caused by forestry but also different weather events. It is critically important that we learn from these events, whether it be forestry or wind farms in the wrong places.


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