The 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, (13 June 2017) announced an important milestone in the review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines.
Minister Coveney said, “I am pleased to confirm, that following detailed engagement between Minister Naughten and myself, as well as our respective Departments, we have developed a preferred draft approach (detailed at Appendix) to address the key aspects of the review of the Guidelines which I feel strikes the appropriate balance between facilitating future wind energy projects, in the context of ensuring we 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”.
The key aspects of the proposed approach are:
- the application of a more stringent noise limit, consistent with World Health Organisation standards, in tandem with a new robust noise monitoring regime, to ensure compliance with noise standards;
- a visual amenity setback of 4 times the turbine height between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum distance of 500 metres;
- the elimination of shadow flicker; and
- the introduction of new obligations in relation to engagement with local communities by wind farm developers along with the provision of community benefit measures.
In line with requirements under the EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (the SEA Directive), an SEA will be undertaken on the proposed approach to the revised Guidelines. The SEA process ensures that environmental considerations are fully integrated in the preparation of plans and programmes, which provide a framework for development consent or planning permission.
“Following a number of years of engagement on the review of the existing 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines, I think it is important that we are in a position to give greater clarity to stakeholders, local authorities, the energy sector and the wider community as to the broad direction that the review is taking, which will be subject to the SEA process and involve public consultation before the Guidelines are ultimately finalised. I envisage following the completion of the SEA process, the new statutory Guidelines will be finalized and issue to planning authorities in Q1 2018”, Minister Coveney concluded.
Review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006 – Summary of Key Aspects of “Preferred Draft Approach”
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.