Donegal politicians are backing a Bill which would put minimum setback distances from wind turbines to homes enshrined in law – with one Donegal Senator calling for a minimum 1km distance.
Senator Brian O Domhnaill, who spoke in the debate in the Seanad, was backing proposals put forward by Labour senator John Kelly.
“Setback distances deals predominantly with the noise issue and genuine health concerns,” said O Domhnaill.
“There is medical evidence to suggest there are genuine health concerns that must be addressed. Setback distances of at least 1 km from any occupied dwelling and, thereafter, further setback distances according to the height of the turbines must be set in legislation in order to alleviate concerns raised by genuine groups and members of the public.
“The Bill introduced by Senator Kelly was supported but it seems to be sitting in the Department of the Communications, Energy and Natural Resources gathering dust. Why is the Bill not being supported by the Government and brought forward before the House so that we can have an input into the debate?
“Since the original (500m) guidelines were drafted in 2006, much has changed. We know about the exploitation of the potential of wind energy by multinationals and the money they bring.
“Very often, local authorities, the Government and the Department listen to the large multinationals instead of the communities. That happened in the constituency in which I live and it is not right.
“The height of wind turbines has increased threefold. Other issues are the shadow flicker nuisance, the impact on the local economy in terms of tourism dependent enterprises, the noise and its effect on health and the reduction in the residential property values for properties in close proximity to the turbines.”
Senator Jimmy Harte also back new laws.
“This all comes down to local communities getting a say and ensuring that fears are allayed,” told the Seanad.
“I am a supporter of alternative energy and believe everybody has a positive view of it. However, this should not be to the detriment of the tourism industry and local community.”
He said wind farm companies need to engage with local communities – and referred to a proposed mobile phone mast in Ramelton three years ago which was moved by the company, even though they had all the medical evidence to show it was safe at their first preferred location.
Senator Kelly also raised the issue of the turbine that collapsed at Loughderryduff wind farm on 25th March last and he echoed concerns that the owners, manufacturers and others are not providing answers on how it happened. Minister Jan O Sullivan was present in the Seanad and said she will look into this.
Senator John Kelly told the hearing: “To learn the effects of wind turbines on people, all one needs to do is talk to Dorothy and Michael Keane in Roscommon who lived 750 m from wind turbines and had to leave their house. I passed by the turbines last week and on a close-by road.
“The turbines are 100 m high and it is scary to look at them. They are monstrous, yet they are only 100 m high. When the guidelines were introduced in 2006, they were based on turbines that were 54 m high, approximately half of 100 m.
“The turbines being erected at present all around the country are as high as 185 m, which is three and a half times the height of the original turbines, yet the specified set-back distance of 500 m is the same for all. This guideline is being breached right across the country.
“My Bill was endorsed by many county councils from around the country. When the Bill went as far as Donegal County Council, the county manager asked that the 500 m guideline already in place be lifted so turbines could be put at every crossroads in the county.
“Since the introduction of my Bill, it seems there has been a race to the finish line. Wind energy developers are trying to get planning permission applications in as quickly as possible in case there is any change with regard to the guidelines.
“The Minister of State, who was in the House last week when the findings of the European Court of Justice were raised, will know that all the planning permissions granted between 1999 and 2012 were deemed illegal because they did not comply with an EU directive. As a result of the court ruling, which I put on the record of the House last week, the Government, local authorities and wind energy sector will be open to being sued unless the issue is dealt with.”