Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Wind Farm Developments
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I am seeking a moratorium on future wind farm developments. I have three reasons for doing so, which I will explain presently. Senator John Whelan and I have been beating the drum about wind farm developments for the last 14 months. What we are seeking to achieve is the right of people to live in peace and tranquillity within their community, without having to live beside and with the effects of wind turbines. That is why I introduced a Private Members' Bill in February 2012, which passed through this House with flying colours but did not get support elsewhere.
The first reason for seeking a moratorium is that the decision of the European Court of Justice strongly indicates that the State may be liable for the adverse effects of wind farms which were granted planning permission between 1999 and 2012. This is because the State failed to implement Article 3 of the 1985 environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive, which was to apply to wind farms from 1999. The EIA directive was agreed by all EU member states, including Ireland, and provided that any project within the EU that has an impact on the environment would be consistently subject to an independent environmental impact assessment by the competent planning authority. The competent planning authority must not only describe but also investigate and analyse the direct and indirect effects of the project on the following specified factors: human beings, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climate, landscape, material assets and cultural heritage. Sadly, there has been no regard to people's human rights, the landscape or, indeed, people's material assets. Apart from the obligation on developers to produce an environmental impact statement, EIS, there is also a legal obligation on local authorities to carry out an independent environmental impact assessment. Planners within local authorities were doing that themselves, and this was deemed to be illegal.
The second reason for seeking a moratorium is the decision by the European Court of Justice on 14 March 2012, in the Leth v. Austria case, that failure to implement Article 3 of the EIA directive can lead to state liability in the case of property devaluation. I got a consultant to examine this and he has estimated that we could already be liable to compensation of approximately €1 billion for developments that have been granted planning permission but which are not compliant with the EU directive. Who will pay that bill?
The third reason is that we are currently reviewing the guidelines pertaining to wind farm developments. There is an acceptance that the guidelines are out of date because they are based on 1980 material. Heels are being dragged on reviewing the guidelines and for that reason I ask the Minister to implement a moratorium. In addition, given that all of these developments have been non-compliant, it is important that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources write to all the developers who got planning permission and ask them if they can now comply with the EU directive. If they say they cannot, and they clearly cannot, it is incumbent on the Minister to withdraw the refit energy feed-in tariff, REFIT, funding that is in his gift under EU and environmental law.
With regard to the spin surrounding all these proposed wind farm developments throughout the country and particularly in the midlands, four or five months ago there was an announcement that 66,000 jobs would be created. Two weeks ago that was refined in The Irish Times to 2,000 jobs and tomorrow's edition of The Irish Times will probably report that hundreds of jobs will be created in this project. It is spin all the way when it comes to the wind energy sector. I believe we are being sold a pup and people throughout the country are beginning to wise up to that. There will be a serious revolt against these plans. Unless we take the landscape and the lives of people into consideration and respect both, there will be a problem. This requires the wind energy sector to conduct its business in a far more transparent way. We also have a duty to the taxpayer, and we certainly do not need another Army deafness case. That is coming down the track unless we deal with this in the right way.
I thank Senator Kelly for raising the issue. I am aware that he has a keen interest in this area.
The wind energy development guidelines of June 2006 provide advice to planning authorities on catering for wind energy through the development plan process. The guidelines are also intended to ensure consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification of suitable locations for wind energy development and the treatment of planning applications for such developments. To ensure that Ireland continues to meet its renewable energy targets and, at the same time, that wind energy does not have negative impacts on local communities, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and other stakeholders, is undertaking a targeted review of certain aspects of the wind energy guidelines of 2006. This focused review will examine the manner in which the guidelines address key issues of community concern such as noise and proximity.
All statutory planning guidelines issue first in draft form for a public consultation over a period of a couple of months. Once the consultation period is closed the submissions received on the draft guidelines are considered and taken into account in the final form of the guidelines. The draft guidelines will, like all other new or revised guidelines, be subject to extensive public consultation for a period of six weeks to two months. The indicative timetable for the publication of the draft guidelines is quarter three or quarter four of 2013.
Planning is a dynamic policy area and there are over 25 sets of ministerial policy guidance in place at present, including the guidance on wind energy developments. At any given time my Department is therefore likely either to be in the process of updating existing guidance or developing new guidance. Typically, there is a lead-in period of several months between publication of draft guidance for public consultation and the publication of final guidance taking account of the submissions received. Examples of recent such processes include updated statutory guidance on retail planning in April 2012, development contributions in January 2013 and guidance on carrying out environmental impact assessment in March 2013. The imposition of a moratorium on retail development, the levying of development contributions or development requiring environmental impact assessment pending publication of the final guidance would clearly have been inappropriate. Therefore, I do not believe it either appropriate or necessary to impose a moratorium on planning applications for wind energy development at this time.
I appreciate that there is a review of the guidelines in place at present. We must wait to see what comes from that. I realise there are targets for green energy and so forth, but we have done this from 1999 to November 2012 in defiance of EU directives. That is the problem. We are clearly leaving ourselves open to be sued. The developer, the local authority and the Government will be sued. I have already been told that house prices will be devalued by between 20% and 50%. There are a couple of ways to deal with this. First, county councils can decide to revoke planning permission. That is within their gift. Second, the Minister must withdraw REFIT funding where EU directives have been breached. It is important that he be informed of that. At least I have put this on the record of the House.