A Private Members’ Bill aimed at allaying fears about wind turbines by locating them further from people’s homes would leave as little as 3 per cent of the State’s land area available for development, according to the Irish Wind Energy Association.
In a briefing document circulated to TDs and Senators, the association says the Bill proposed by Willie Penrose TD (Labour) “could hinder our ability to meet ambitious but necessary and legally binding EU renewable energy and climate change commitments”.
Mr Penrose, a former minister of state for planning, told the Lakelands Wind Farm Information Group in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, that his Bill would address issues of noise and “shadow flicker” from wind turbines in the interest of public health.
“I appreciate that wind energy has a contribution to make, but the issue is where it’s located,” he said. “There are huge tracts of cut-away bog in the midlands that could be an ideal location for wind turbines.”
Achieving wind energy targets “can’t be done by trampling on people – there has to be a sense of balance and fairness”, he said. “I’m looking to get this Bill on to the floor of the Dáil to get a debate on it. That would be a very important starting point.”
The Environment and Public Health (Wind Turbines) Bill 2012, introduced in the Dáil on November 13th, would set minimum separation distances of up to 2km between wind turbines and residential property depending on the size of turbines. But the wind energy association, citing NUI Maynooth’s All-Island Research Observatory as its source, said even a 1km “buffer zone” would leave only 9.4 per cent of the land area available for new development – mainly because of the spread of housing in rural areas.
For 1.5km or 2km separation distances, the figures given are 5.2 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively. These mainly comprise upland areas in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and Wicklow, as well as areas of cutaway bog in the midlands.
Current Department of the Environment guidelines suggest a setback of 500m between wind turbines and homes. On that basis, according to the observatory’s calculations, nearly 24 per cent of the State’s land area would remain available for wind development.
The association believes current guidelines “are working well and applications should continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis”, ensuring wind farms “are not unduly prohibited by unnecessary and burdensome regulation”.
Its briefing document warns that imposing “arbitrary” and “rigid” separation distances would also “cut across the Government’s policy to deliver more indigenous renewable energy and reduce our imported fossil fuel dependency”.
An earlier Private Members’ Bill by Senator John Kelly (Labour) stalled after Taoiseach Enda Kenny indicated last May it did not have Cabinet support.
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