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Labour TDs row over wind turbine distance debate

Energy minister Alex White claims proposed planning guidelines to distance windfarms from communities by at least 1km would “kill off” wind farm production.

His comments come as the Government faces pressure to distance high-powered wind turbines from towns and villages but also to meet EU renewable energy guidelines and thereby avoid hefty fines from Brussels.

A standoff is under way between Mr White and Environment Minister Alan Kelly over how far wind turbines should be from communities. Mr Kelly is finalising updated 2006 guidelines on windfarms.

The Irish Examiner understands these propose extending distances from 500m to between 600m and 800m [1.3km]. It is expected the new rules could be brought to Cabinet as early as next month .

However, the ministers’ departments are in disagreement over the new rules. Furthermore, both Labour ministers face pressure from backbenchers who say voters want windfarms moved as far away from homes as possible.

Mr White yesterday said extending the distances by a significant amount would restrict the amount of land suitable for windfarms.

“If some of the proposals that are knocking around of a kilometre or so were implemented, we would wipe out onshore wind in this country, which is the most cost-effective form of renewable energy that we have,” he said.

Suggestions that windfarm distances could be even stretched out to 1.5km would destroy the industry, he told RTÉ’s News at One.

“There is absolutely no way that you would have a functioning onshore wind production in Ireland with those kind of distances,” said Mr White. “You would have a tiny portion of the land available. It would kill it off.”

However, Mr White did say there was scope to alter guidelines on how noise and shadow-flicker from turbines affects communities. He is also keen to examine how State lands, such as forests or Bord na Móna sites, could be exploited.