The Government’s highly anticipated planning guidelines for the wind energy industry prohibit the construction of high-powered turbines within a kilometre of towns and villages, the Irish Independent can reveal.
The new rules will enforce a so-called ‘setback distance’ of 600 metres for turbines from any private residence – which is an increase on the 500m set out in the current guidelines.
Wind energy companies will be also be stopped from constructing mega-windmills higher than 170m, under the policy drafted by Environment Minister Alan Kelly.
However, it is unclear when the guidelines will be published or if these restrictions will be enforced due to an internal Cabinet row between Mr Kelly and Energy Minister Alex White.
Mr Kelly and his junior minister Paudie Coffey are said to be “hugely frustrated” with Mr White, who believes their guidelines will prevent the development of more onshore wind turbines.
Mr White insists this will result in Ireland missing EU renewable energy targets and will leave the country liable for huge fines.
Talks between the two departments have “broken down” and it is understood a decision may have to be taken at Cabinet to resolve the dispute.
It can also be revealed that any further delay in publishing the rules could result in local authorities being given the power to set distances themselves.
There is rising public frustration over the wind energy issue which is affecting many parts of rural Ireland – including Mr Kelly’s homeland of north Tipperary – and it is likely to be a key issue when the country goes to the polls.
Protesters are planning to descend on the Ploughing Championships in Laois this week to voice their anger at the Government.
The Irish Independent understands the yet-to-be published guidelines from the Department of the Environment will propose a setback distance of a kilometre from towns and villages. There will be a maximum height of 170m on flat land and 150m in mountainous areas. It proposes a setback distance of 600m form any private residence and a similar distance from lakes or seashores.
The setback distance for high-powered turbines will be determined by a “height to distance matrix”.
A spokesman for Mr White said the proposed guidelines would result in Ireland missing renewable energy targets and force the country to pay fines running into “hundreds of millions of euro”.
“It is possible to revise the guidelines, but as they are currently drafted we would miss renewable energy targets and it would send a negative message to Europe which will damage our negotiating position on these issues,” he said.
Meanwhile, there is a belief in the Department of the Environment that the current guidelines, which were drawn up almost a decade ago, may no longer be “legally robust”.
This means power may soon have to be delegated to county councils as the legal planning authority to set their own distances for wind turbines.
Mr Kelly and Mr Coffey are understood to be open to giving local authorities the responsibility for the setback distances.
Meath-East Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee yesterday accused Mr White of “dragging his feet” and stalling the publication of “more appropriate and sustainable” guidelines.
Meanwhile, Labour Senator John Whelan, who has campaigned on behalf of anti-wind turbine protesters, said community groups were being forced to raise up to €100,000 to take legal challenges against wind energy firms.