Well, you learn something new every day – private members Bill – is this a Government Bill – half a Government bill– I must make further enquiries when I have a bright idea if I want to bring a bill – will I get automatic support, I presume NOT. –that’s an aside.
This bill proposes to regulate distances between wind turbines and residential premises based on wind turbine size – there are quite a few issues that must be evaluated when considering this bill, consideration must be given to Ireland’s renewable energy targets and the benefits that can be accrued from using cleaner, greener energy sources.
Renewable energy development is a vital part of Ireland’s strategy to tackle two major challenges facing us today – ensuring a secure supply of energy and combating climate change. The availability of significant natural resources provides Ireland, due to its geographic location and its high average wind speeds, with the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to this issue. The proactive and strategic development of wind energy also has a clear role to play in Ireland’s road to economic recovery and in stimulating employment growth.
Wind energy produces indigenous renewable electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by displacing traditional fossil fuels. Recent volatility in fossil fuel prices has demonstrated that regions with a high dependence on energy imports are exposed to a high level of risk. This volatility makes it difficult for investors in the economy to make reliable long term forecasts of their energy costs. The most effective way to reduce this volatility is to increase the share of energy costs that are predictable and based locally, leading to lower and more stable long-term energy costs. As other regions move to stabilise their long-term energy costs, it is essential that Ireland continues to increase its relative competitiveness in this area.
It is estimated that between 25% -30% of capital investment in renewable energy is retained in the local economy. This typically flows to the community in terms of land lease payments; local infrastructure upgrades; to the county council via rates and to companies to cover construction, legal, financial and other professional services.
The large scale expansion of the Irish wind industry represents an extremely positive economic development for Ireland and will result in greater grid security and stability, further job creation and lower energy prices.
EXEMPTED DEV. FOR TURBINES.
Section 3 of the Bill states, “No relevant authority may grant planning permission for the construction of a wind turbine generator unless it meets the minimum distance requirement under section 4 – subject to the exception in section 5” (that is consent of all residents) but it does not say anything about the current exempted developments i.e. Statute no 83 of 2007 was introduced into Irish law in an attempt to ease the burden of planning for renewable energy systems including wind turbines, solar PV systems etc.
SE 600 of 2001 gives planners the right to refuse exemption ‘ if it interferes with the character or landscape of the area etc.
For domestic houses, the total permitted height of the turbine from ground to blade tip is 13m. The distance from any boundary to the base of the turbine must be its height plus 1m. The rotor must be less than 6m in diameter, the turbine can’t be attached to a building, can’t carry advertising logos, and must quieter than 43 db at the nearest dwelling, or less than 5db above background noise – if this is the case we are only left with the aesthetic view of the wind turbine that constitutes a nuisance.
I think this noise level minimum is something that should be taken into consideration when setting a new limit as this bill proposes –
For commercial turbines, the total permitted height is 20m, the distance from any boundary is its height plus 5m, the rotor can be up to 8m in diameter. There are a few other restrictions in relation to proximity to power lines, airports etc.
These are not limits on the turbine you can put up – simply exemptions to planning. Provided you are willing to put in a planning application (and are successful) you can go above these limits. There is a risk that by exempting a height of 13m, someone with a site that really needs a 20m tower won’t go to the trouble of putting in a planning application, and will end up with a severely compromised turbine that is ineffective – so there are limitations to the present situation/exemptions.
There are two sets of exemptions – domestic and agricultural/commercial – As for the boundaries between what an agricultural site is and what a domestic site is, there are no clear lines set.
An Bord Pleannala insisted in the removal of a wind turbine because it interfered with the character of the landscape and impacted on the archaeology of the area. Any general exemption from planning is still subject to certain restrictions which are outlined in the legislation (SI 600 of 2001). As I said One of the key restrictions is that if the installation is deemed to interfere with the character of a landscape or a view of special amenity it would still require permission.
There is currently no legislation in place prescribing separation distances between wind turbines and residential areas but there are some safeguards and guidelines in place and suitable siting considerations are standard in all planning processes. Local topography, ground cover, population distribution and acoustic characteristics all play a part in planning assessments that inherently differ from site to site.
I think that the rationale behind the proposals to regulate distance between turbines and dwellings is well intentioned, the planning guidelines that we have in place are designed to ensure a consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification of suitable locations for wind energy development and the treatment of planning applications for wind energy developments. The development plans of the local Councils are best placed to ensure that the optimum locations are ‘if not designated’ for maximum wind strength & also taking into consideration urban/residential needs – without promoting NIMBY’ism
The distances being proposed in section 4 of the Bill I would like to know WHY this distance was chosen exactly? Or how the figures were arrived at. Under the provisions of the Bill, a turbine of 24 metres in height would have no minimum distance from a residential dwelling yet one of 25 metres would have to be 500 metres away from a dwelling. Now don’t get me wrong I am a believer in minimum distances set where the development might be harmful for the residence – for example when I was a member of SDCC I instigated a minimum limit of 100 mtrs. For Phone masts – this was inserted in our development plan, so I am not anti limits – but my reason for doing this was that the jury was/is out on electromagnetic waves – and the harmful (if any) question to health – be it proven or not – I don’t know if wind turbines cause any harm to the health of a person – or the hearing as the noise limits are catered for even in exempted developments – so is the objective of the limits proposed for visual? Or I am just wondering will be totally limit the supply of wind turbines with this limitation?
Another connected issue I would like to raise is the ESB limitation to connection to the grid – in their infinite wisdom they have set limits of maximum power of renewables systems connected to the grid. These are 5.75KW for a single phase electricity supply, and 11KW for a three phase electrical supply, In reality, there is no such ‘animal’ as a 5.75KW turbine so this is an anomaly – so this is really a 6KW max. power. – say there were 500 domestic ‘grid connected’ 12KW turbine users in Ireland, insignificant as individuals but as a collective, at maximum power they would input totally 600,000 KW that’s 600MW – ABOUT 4-6 LARGE POWER STATIONS. But the planning exempt limit appears to being set at only 6KW, now that’s only 2-3 power stations – that’s interesting and should be reviewed and investigated in any review of limits on wind turbines.
PLANNERS MAKING IT DIFFICULT AT THE MOMENT
One requested a photo-montage – sounds simple enough except for a domestic dwelling such a photo-montage professional software literally cost in excess of 10,000 euro to purchase
CONDITIONS IN PLANNING – one “that tall quick growing trees should be planted in close proximity to the turbine for screening purposes – tall trees would be really useful at blocking the wind from turbines! ? I tell you – there is ‘confusion’ all round?
There is as we all know very often much hostility to the construction of wind farms in residential areas but people often overlook the positive outcomes and focus on the perceived negative impact of wind farms on a landscape. Obviously there is a need for proper planning and sustainable development and it must be recognised that development of wind energy projects must afford protection to residents, there is no question about that.
However, the existing planning system which provides for the requirement to identify, mitigate and protect human resources does provide for some protection to residence. For example several users and companies have installed turbines at locations that have met all the requirements of statute no 83 of 2007 and have subsequently encountered huge issues with local planners even though they were ‘exempted’ developments – “interferes with a natural area of beauty” could produce blade flicker etc. – letter of confirmation of exemption – which now has to be paid for .
Wind energy developments are required to demonstrate environmental benefits as well as how any environmental and social impacts have been minimised through careful consideration of location scale design and other measures.
We must consider if the establishment of any rigid separation distances and linking them to the height of the turbines could actually lead to negative outcomes. For example, such legislation could lead to proposals being submitted for higher numbers of smaller turbines below height limits – do we want this? Or indeed totality limit the nos. of wind turbines.
The Government is striving to reach our EU targets for renewable energy and the development of wind farms is a priority, particularly in areas which are ideally suited for wind development. There is a consistent and coherent policy to encourage and promote the development of wind farms provided they are in accordance with the proper planning and development of the area.
I am asking has the research been carried out on what imposing rigid separation distances could have on Government policy to deliver more indigenous renewable energy and to reduce our imported fossil fuel dependency. Ruling out suitable potential sites on an arbitrary basis could hinder our ability to meet our ambitious but necessary and legally binding renewable energy and EU climate change commitments. Furthermore, would it restrict the wind energy sector from reaching its full potential in creating jobs in Ireland and contributing to the recovery of our economy?
For example – how many of the wind turbines currently in place would have come under those limits – and so would not be there if this distance had been in place? Do we have research on that?
Ensuring the security of energy supply is also a key part of the Government’s recent Framework for Sustainable Economic Revival. The Framework acknowledges the need to put the energy/climate change agenda at the heart of Ireland’s economic renewal.
Nick Clegg commented last week that, “the race is on to lead the world in clean, green energy. In 2011 we saw record breaking global investment in renewables…..the choice is simple, we either wake up or play catch up.” We will fall behind other countries if we don’t continue pro-actively to facilitate and encourage the utilization of renewable energy sources.
Clearly there needs to be a balance between reaching our renewable energy targets and meeting the needs of communities – that is the question.
Consultation with the community is a fundamental part of the development of a wind farm and it must continue through all stages of the development process including early project development, environmental impact analysis, construction and operation. I know this bill in section 5 (2) provides for consultation with the residential premises which fall within the minimum distance requirements for the proposed wind turbine that they must agree in writing to the construction of the turbine and all is ok – or is it? – is this not open to being abused – could we have for instance – if three of the four had signed up the 4th being –what shall I say being ‘enticed’ by some manner or means to give their consent. Or people holding out on giving permission for this reason? Just asking? – How will the local authority police this as proposed in section 5(3)
Landing a wind farm on top of a community that hitherto had only the noise of bleating sheep and barking dogs to contend with can lead to disruption. Residents are faced with the combined effect of noise, increased traffic on bad roads, pylons, property devaluation and even landslides.
These factors have to be taken into account. There are drawbacks associated with the construction of wind farms- that is indisputable. However, the benefits of wind energy are numerous and the fifty million dollar question, how to balance the two and are we satisfied that the minimum distance as proposed will give a fair balance? Personally I have not conducted the research to make a valued judgement – I trust the proposers have. I am open to persuasion in the discussion.