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Number of wind farms to double to meet EU targets

The number of wind farms across the State will almost double over the coming years to meet ambitious EU targets for increased renewable energy production.

There are currently some 196 wind farms across the country, capable of producing almost 2,200MW of power – enough for two million homes.

But data from national grid operator EirGrid, which connects larger projects to the national grid, and ESB Networks, which connects smaller farms to the distribution system, shows that the number of farms is expected to double over the coming years.

Some 181 wind farms have offers to connect with the network, which would provide another 3,500MW of electricity – sufficient for some three million homes.

In terms of output, some 500MW across 12 projects are proposed in Co Mayo, followed by 451MW in Cork where 27 farms have offers to connect with the grid.

No connections are planned in Dublin, Laois and Kildare.

Energy Minister Alex White said that despite opposition in some communities, onshore wind farms would remain the primary driver to decarbonise our power system for the foreseeable future.

“I have responsibility for the energy policy of the Government. It’s to extend our renewable energy portfolio, and principally it will be through onshore wind until 2020,” he told the Irish Independent.

However, the Government has yet to publish guidelines on locating wind farms with both Mr White and Environment Minister Alan Kelly unable to agree new proposals.

Mr Kelly wants to introduce a setback distance where turbines can be located no closer than 1km from a town or village, and at least 600 metres from a private residence.

In addition, there will be maximum turbine height of 170 metres on flat land and 150 metres in mountainous areas.

But Mr White said any increase from the current 500-metre limit would have a severe impact on the industry and leave Ireland open to fines from the EU for failing to meet targets.

“Wind farms have to be located somewhere. We should have new guidelines, and I think we could do something on noise and on shadow flicker…Even a relatively marginal increase on setback would impact on the onshore wind plan.”