Some wind energy developers are “behaving like an oil baron of old” in dismissing concerns of communities about the potentially negative impact of their schemes, according to Minister of State for Planning Jan O’Sullivan.
Addressing a conference on renewable energy in Dublin yesterday she said revised planning guidelines on wind farm developments would be published by the end of November and go to public consultation for “six to eight weeks”.
She also told the conference, organised by the Irish Planning Institute (IPI), that the new guidelines would take into account the “evolution of wind turbine technologies” since 2006 as well as research on noise issues and international practice.
Echoing criticism by Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte, Ms O’Sullivan stressed the need for wind energy developers to engage with local communities. “Too often I have seen industry voices talking down to people and dismissing concerns out of hand,” said Ms O’Sullivan. “Engagement and consultation with local communities must be at the heart of the development process.”
“Public acceptance of such interventions in the landscape is vital and requires meaningful communication on both sides.”
A new approach to electricity generation “must involve a new approach to communication and the sector has a way to travel in that regard”, she said, adding that public acceptance could be achieved by addressing people’s concerns.
She was working with Mr Rabbitte to “ensure an all too rare, joined-up approach” to the delivery of wind energy – including proposals for 2,000 or more wind turbines in the midlands targeted at exporting the electricity they generate to Britain.
Mr Rabbitte’s department was drawing up an overall policy and planning framework for the export of renewable energy to the UK, underpinned initially by a strategic environmental assessment “to ensure that only appropriate development takes place”.
Ms O’Sullivan made it clear that there would be no exemption from baseline standards in the revised planning guidelines for “these large-scale projects”. And they would also “have to adhere to the additional requirements that Minister Rabbitte is overseeing”.
IPI president Mary Crowley told the conference that a national strategy was “essential” if there was to be a plan-led approach. It also needed to address “the social acceptance challenge and fears surrounding adverse local environmental impacts”.
“This requires extensive public engagement and consultation to ensure transparency, accountability and ultimately public ownership of the planning process. Planning serves the community, and therefore there must be proper engagement,” she added.