Thursday, 13 April 2017
Wind Energy Guidelines
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter for the Commencement debate and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I am calling on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, to introduce new wind energy development guidelines in respect of noise, proximity and shadow flicker as a matter of urgency. It is more than three years since the closing date for submissions under the public call for submissions on the proposed revision of the 2006 wind energy guidelines, but we are still no closer to the new guidelines being introduced.
The guidelines were first introduced in 1996 and they were revised in 2006. In the intervening years, the size and scale of wind turbines and industrial wind farms have increased dramatically. Where turbines were approximately 90 metres in height, many are now 170 metres to 200 metres in height. While we wait for new wind energy development guidelines to be introduced rural communities such as mine are sitting ducks for the highly subsidised wind energy industry.It was highlighted that interest had been conveyed to timber companies about the development of a wind energy farm near to where I live in Castlecoote. The Minister needs to do two things. The subsidy for onshore wind energy is far too high. The industry is subsidised but it has created great difficulties for families and residents, particularly in the Slieve Bawn area. Coillte and Bord na Móna built a wind farm in the Roscommon-Strokestown-Ballyleague area but it has caused major difficulties for the residents. The Minister must introduce new wind energy guidelines where the setback is ten times the height of the wind turbine. For example, a 150 m turbine would be setback 1,500 m or 1.5 km from residents. The most critical things for consideration are the potential impact the noise generated will have on residents in close proximity, the associated effects on sleep and subsequent health, the potential for shadow flicker on residential homes, the overall impact on the landscape, the general amenity of the residents and the loss of tourism and economic benefits.
Coillte is the national company that organises and runs the timber industry. I am concerned by the fact Coillte has been approached by a German company with a proposal to develop wind turbines in my area. The German company is only interested in erecting wind turbines in the area. The project would have a detrimental effect on the communities in the area - for instance, Aghagad, Aghagower, Bracklin, Carrowkeel, Cornaveagh, Creemully, Aghagad Beg and Derryhippo, County Roscommon. A major project has been put forward by the local action group. It has met practically every week over the past number of weeks in order to put forward a very good policy decision or request to Coillte, which I hope will be considered in the very near future. I call on Coillte to desist from dealing with the wind farm proposal for the area. I also ask the Minister to introduce guidelines as quickly as possible. The guidelines are a number of years out of date. I look forward to the Minister responding in a positive manner with new planning guidelines for wind turbines that will be erected in the future.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. I thank Senator Leyden for raising this issue.
Since May 2016, the Minister has liaised closely with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, having regard to his responsibility for renewable energy policy, on the focused review of the 2006 guidelines. The Minister recognises the need to bring the review to a close in order to give certainty to all stakeholders, local authorities, the energy sector and the wider community.
In light of the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to finalise the guidelines and the ongoing policy and legal developments in this area, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, is continuing to advance work on the guidelines and related matters in order to bring the various issues to a conclusion as early as possible. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, expects to be in a position to make a statement on the matter in the coming weeks when he will outline the proposed revisions to the guidelines and the timelines for implementation of the various elements.
As part of the overall review, and having regard to a recent European Court of Justice judgment on the Belgian-Wallonian wind energy guidelines, it is proposed to undertake a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, of the proposed revisions to the 2006 guidelines before they come into effect. This is in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/24/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment. SEA is a process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes that act as frameworks for development consent prior to their final adoption, with public consultation as part of that process. In light of the SEA requirement, which will take approximately nine months, it is likely that while the proposals for revisions to the guidelines will be available shortly the guidelines will not be finalised and come into effect until the end of the year. When finalised, the revised guidelines will be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Planning authorities and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanála must have regard to the guidelines issued under section 28 in their assessment of planning applications and in the performance of their functions generally under the Planning Acts.
In the interim, the 2006 guidelines will continue to apply to existing planning applications that are with either the local planning authorities or the board for determination. As mentioned earlier, there has been close engagement between both Ministers and their Departments with a view to advancing the revision of the guidelines to a conclusion. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, recently had a constructive meeting with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and his officials. Both Ministers will further discuss the matter today. In light of the recent progress made on the matter, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is confident that he will be able to make an announcement on the final proposed revisions to the guidelines which will be subject to the SEA process in the coming weeks.
It is encouraging that the Minister is moving in this particular regard. There have been numerous public consultations on this matter. Ireland has fully complied with European Union law in this regard and the Belgian case should not be used to delay or prevent the implementation of new guidelines. I welcome the fact that new guidelines will be announced shortly and that they will implemented by the end of 2017.