The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, T.D. and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, T.D., have today (12 December 2019) launched a public consultation on proposed revisions to the Wind Energy Development Guidelines. The guidelines relate to onshore wind developments and set the national policy context for the incorporation of wind energy considerations in local authority development plans and for the determination of planning applications and appeals by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in respect of wind energy developments.
The draft guidelines, when finalised, will affect future planning applications and considerations for future wind energy development proposals. These will include the renewal and repowering of existing wind energy development consents.
The draft guidelines propose the following main changes to the current Guidelines:
- New noise standards: The draft guidelines include proposed new standards aimed at reducing noise nuisance from wind energy developments for local residents and communities. The proposed new standards are in line with the most up-to-date international standards, as incorporated in the 2018 World Health Organisation Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region. The permitted noise levels will take account of certain noise characteristics specific to wind energy projects i.e. tonal, amplitude modulation and low frequency noise and provide penalties for tonal noise and amplitude modulation and a threshold for low frequency noise above specified limits which, if breached, will result in turbine shut down. The implementation of a new robust noise monitoring framework is also proposed.
- Setback distance: The draft guidelines require a setback distance for visual amenity purposes of four times the tip height between a wind turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property in the vicinity of the proposed development, subject to a minimum mandatory setback distance of 500 metres. This setback requirement is also subject to the need to comply with the proposed noise limits outlined above.
- Automatic shadow flicker control mechanisms: Automatic shadow flicker control mechanisms will be required to be in place for the operational duration of a wind energy development project. It will be a specific condition of planning permissions that should shadow flicker occur and impact existing properties, the relevant wind turbines must be shut down.
- Community consultation: Wind energy developers will be mandatorily required to engage in active public consultation with the local community at an early stage. In this regard, they will have to prepare and submit a 'Community Report' as part of their planning application outlining how they have consulted and engaged with the local community regarding the proposed development and how they will work with the local community to allow for the free flow of information between the community and the developer at all stages in the project.
- Community dividend: Wind energy developers will have to provide an opportunity for the proposed development to be of enduring economic or social benefit to the local community, whether by facilitating community investment/ ownership in the project, other types of benefits/ dividends, or a combination of the two.
- Grid connections: The draft guidelines contain updated guidance regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment-related requirements in respect of wind energy development projects and their related grid connections, arising from a High Court Judicial Review (O Grianna and others v. An Bord Pleanála).
Commenting on the draft guidelines as he launched the public consultation, Minister Murphy said: "After much work, analysis and consultation, we are publishing draft Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines which are aimed at striking a better balance between addressing the needs of local communities and maintaining Ireland's ability to deliver on its renewable energy ambitions."
"Our aim in these draft guidelines is to provide greater consistency of approach in planning for onshore wind energy development; thereby providing greater certainty and clarity to the planning system, the wind energy industry and to local communities."
Minister Bruton said: "We are exiting from peat and coal to generate electricity and moving to clean, renewable sources of power, like wind and solar as part of the Climate Action Plan. By 2030, 70% of our electricity will be generated from renewables. These guidelines are crucial to delivering the step up that is required and will give clarity to project leaders. A key part will be ensuring local communities are consulted on and benefit from projects in their area. We must ensure those living close to large scale projects are included in their development."
Minister Murphy concluded by inviting the public and all interested parties to give their views. "Onshore wind energy projects are of interest to both those developing them and those in local communities. They are also of national interest in terms of enabling Ireland to meet its ambitious renewable energy targets. I would encourage all parties with an interest in this area to have their say on the draft guidelines before the consultation closes on February 19th 2020."
Notes to the editor
People can give their views by email to: WEDGReview@housing.gov.ie or by post to:
WEDG Review Submissions
Planning Policy and Legislation Section
Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
Dublin 1 D01 W6X0
Responses will be accepted until 17:00hrs on Wednesday, 19 February 2020.
The public consultation process is taking place as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process for the draft Wind Energy Development Guidelines. The SEA process requires environmental considerations to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes that act as frameworks for development consent, prior to their final adoption. Public consultation is part of this process.
- The current Wind Energy Development Guidelines came into effect in 2006, issued as Ministerial planning guidelines to planning authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act (2000).
- If the proposed changes following public consultation are minor in nature, the SEA process and consequent SEA statement on the proposed revisions will be made, with the revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines likely to be published in Q2 2020. If significant changes to the draft guidelines are required, there is a possibility that a second SEA of the subsequently amended draft guidelines will be required. This would impact the timeline for publishing finalised, updated guidelines.
- The Programme for a Partnership Government (2016) contained a commitment to conclude the review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines, with a view to offering a better balance between the concerns of local communities and the need to invest in indigenous energy projects, informed by the public consultation process and best international practice in this field.
- The Strategic Environmental Assessment consultation on the Wind Energy Development Guidelines is a commitment in the Government's Climate Action Plan, published in June 2019. Ireland has the ambitious target of meeting 70% of electricity demand from renewable energy sources by 2030.
- The revised guidelines, when finalised, are expected to be forward looking for planning applications and considerations for future wind energy development proposals, including the renewal and repowering of existing wind energy development consents. Once finalised, planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála will be required to have regard to the guidelines and to apply any specific planning policy requirements, as may be included in the revised guidelines (under section 28(1C) of the Planning and Development Act (2000)), in carrying out their statutory functions in relation to wind energy developments.
- The draft revisions to the Wind Energy Development Guidelines have been prepared in line with the 'preferred draft approach' as published in June 2017 by the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.
Main elements of the draft guidelines
- Noise: The draft guidelines propose a relative rated noise limit of 5dB(A) (decibel related rating) above existing background noise within a range of 35 to 43dB(A), with 43dB(A) being the absolute maximum noise limit permitted, day or night. The current Wind Energy Development Guidelines provide for a day time noise limit of 45dB(A) or a maximum increase of 5dB(A) above background, and a 43dB(A) night time limit. The new requirements are aimed at reducing noise nuisance from wind energy developments for local residents and communities.
The draft guidelines provide for penalties for tonal noise, amplitude modulation and a threshold for low frequency noise above specified limits. Breaches of the threshold for low frequency noise will result in a turbine being shut down.
Sounds containing certain characteristics specific to wind turbines (e.g. tonal, low frequency and amplitude modulation) are frequently perceived to be more intrusive than those that do not. The rated limit will take account of these certain noise characteristics and, where identified, permitted noise limits will be further reduced to mitigate for these.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in conjunction with local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will be responsible for implementing a new robust noise monitoring framework. This will build on the local authorities' and the EPA's existing structures and powers for investigating noise complaints, with the EPA also providing a supporting and advisory role to local authorities through its Network for Ireland's Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (NIECE) structure.
Visual amenity setback: The draft guidelines propose a setback distance for visual amenity purposes of four times the tip height between a wind turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property between a wind turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property in the vicinity of the proposed development, subject to a minimum mandatory setback distance of 500 metres. By way of example, a wind turbine with a tip height of say 170 metres will have to be at least 680 metres from the nearest dwelling. The setback requirement includes the need to comply with the proposed noise limits.
Shadow flicker: The draft guidelines propose that planning applicants for wind energy development projects will be required to confirm that automatic shadow flicker control mechanisms will be in place for the operational duration of the wind energy development project. It will be a specific condition of planning permissions that should shadow flicker occur and impact existing properties, the relevant wind turbines must be shut down.
Shadow flicker occurs when the sun is low in the sky and the rotating blades of a wind turbine casts a moving shadow which, if it passes over a window in a nearby house or other property, results in a rapid change or flicker in the incoming sunlight. The time period in which a neighbouring property may be affected by shadow flicker is completely predictable.
- Community consultation: The draft guidelines propose that wind energy developers will be mandatorily required to engage in active public consultation with the local community at an early stage in the process (i.e. prior to, and in addition to, the existing statutory public consultation process required as part of the planning application process).
Developers will also be required to prepare a 'Community Report' as part of their planning application. The application must outline:
- how the developer has consulted and engaged with the local community regarding the proposed development;
- how the final proposal has been adjusted or modified in response to the community consultation; and
- how the developer will work with the local community to allow for the free flow of information between the community and the developer at all stages in the project.
- Community dividend: The draft guidelines propose that wind energy developers will have to take the necessary steps to ensure the proposed development will be of enduring economic or social benefit to the communities concerned. The 'Community Report' must also set out the means by which the developer intends to provide an opportunity for the local community to benefit from the development, whether by facilitating community investment/ownership in the project or by other types of benefits/dividends, or a combination of the two.
- Grid connections: The draft guidelines contain updated guidance regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)-related requirements in respect of wind energy development projects and their associated grid connections, arising from a High Court Judicial Review (O Grianna and others v. An Bord Pleanála). That judicial review determined that, in the context of EIA Directive requirements, a wind energy development and its connection to the electricity grid are considered to be one single project for the purposes of properly conducting an EIA. The draft guidelines outline new and updated arrangements to ensure that both the wind energy development and its associated grid connection are assessed in full compliance with the EIA Directive.
Where an applicant is granted planning permission for a wind energy development that requires an EIA but does not include the grid connection as part of the planning application, no works on the wind energy development element of the project will be allowed to commence without a separate planning permission for the grid connection first being obtained.