On the 12th December 2019, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government published the Draft Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines, replacing the previous Guidelines which were in place since 2006. The guidelines which are out to public consultation until February 19th, set out how wind energy is to be delivered in accordance with best practice and in particular, in partnership with people living in areas local to proposed developments. The guidelines, together with the Climate Action Plan, provide a roadmap as to how Ireland’s 2030 climate commitments can be met and ultimately move the country towards a position of net zero emissions by 2050. Some of the key points of note from the Revised Draft Guidelines are as follows:
- Plan-led Approach: The assessment of individual wind development proposals needs to be conducted within the context of a ‘plan-led approach’. What this means is that local authority development plans should clearly identify areas considered suitable, unsuitable, or open to consideration for the location of wind energy developments. Local Authorities should consider all relevant national and regional guidance when it comes to preparing and adopting strategic policies in relation to wind development. The guidelines propose a step by step approach to be undertaken by local authorities when it comes to wind energy resources capable of exploitation in a manner that is consistent with proper planning and sustainable development.
- Community Engagement: The guidelines are clear that it is essential for the successful delivery of wind energy projects that local communities are engaged in the planning process at an early a stage as possible to improve confidence and openness in the system. Meaningful engagement allows early refinement of the development, establishment of the benefits to the local community and to build partnerships. Consultation must now take place prior to the formal statutory consultation as part of the planning process, and a Community Report should accompany all applications.
- Community Investment and Dividend: The Community Report, mentioned above, must now set out how wind developers intend to provide an opportunity for local communities to benefit from proposed wind developments through community investment/ownership or through benefits and dividends. Models to support community participation will be implemented as part of the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS). The two main methods of community investment indicated have the potential to offer significant socio-economic benefits including employment, supply-chain, cheaper energy, new revenue streams, energy use reduction and carbon footprint reduction.
- Noise: The guidelines establish that the best available techniques must be used in selecting and implementing measures to predict and minimise the impact of noise from wind energy developments at noise-sensitive locations. Under the guidelines, a Relative Rated Noise Limit (RRNL) in the range of 35-43db(A) shall apply, while not exceeding the background noise level by more than 5db(A) with an upper limit of 43db(A). The new noise guidelines are based on best international proactive and aim to strike a balance between the protection of amenity for those proximate to wind development and the need to meet Ireland’s renewable energy target. The impact of the new limits on the cost of development will be considered further in the future.
- Shadow Flicker: Shadow flicker occurs where the rotating blades of a wind turbine cast a moving shadow which, if it passes over a window in a nearby house/property, results in a rapid change or flicker in the incoming sunlight. Generally, only properties with 130 degrees either side of the north are affected in Ireland. The impact of shadow flicker at any given property is predictable and modern turbines can measure sunlight levels and reduce/stop altogether any shadow flicker at neighboring properties. Therefore, through the use of modern technology, shadow flicker should not be an issue and local authorities/Án Bord Pleánala will require the applicant to provide evidence that shadow flicker control mechanisms will be in place for the lifetime of the project.
- Setback: Setback and the reasons for and against were an important consideration in the development of the new guidelines. The potential for visual disturbance can be considered to be dependent on the scale of the proposed turbine and the associated distance. Therefore, a setback which is a function of the size of the turbine is considered the key to determining the appropriate setback. The guidelines stipulate a setback for visual amenity purposes of 4 times the tip height between a turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum of 500m. Planning authorities should not apply a setback that exceeds these requirements.
Should you have a wind energy project you wish to discuss, or should you be considering making a submission on the wind energy guidelines, then the Environment & Planning team at TOBIN would be delighted to help.