The protection of public health of Irish rural dwellers from the hazards of wind turbine noise fall under the long outdated Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006; guidelines which in turn are based on ETSU-R-97 ‘The Assessment and Rating of Noise from Wind Farms,’ issued by the UK Department of Trade and Industry in September 1996.
Ten years have passed since the Irish guidelines were issued, ten years during which the size of wind turbines has increased exponentially, and during which the international knowledge of the public health hazards of low frequency noise and infrasound have been well researched, peer-reviewed and published. Unknown no longer washes.
In December 2013, the Department of Housing, Environment and Local Government published for public consultation a proposed ‘Targeted Revision’ of the guidelines which would guarantee a setback distance of 500m from people’s homes. They received 7,300 submissions, most of which pointed out that this was totally inadequate and far less than international best practice.
The government of the day kicked the can down the road and did nothing for over two years. Public disquiet has forced the new administration to commit to publishing revised wind development guidelines within six months. The Minister confirmed in May that ‘the revisions to the guidelines will be informed by the public consultation process and best international practice.’
However, the ‘best international practice’ that informed the draft proposals back in November 2013 have long since been overtaken by larger and more powerful technology; in today’s terms, 500 metres is woefully inadequate and is guaranteed to lead to public health issues in the future.
In Germany, the Constitutional Court of Bavaria has upheld the State setback rule of 10 times tip height that has been in force since 2014, and the Polish National Institute of Public Health has recommended a minimum setback of 2km.
The Irish renewable energy action plan has already been found to have lacked proper public consultation by the UNECE, a finding that has been accepted by the European Commission and Ireland. It is the Minister’s intention that: ‘My Department will continue to advance work on the guidelines in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.’
The only way that the Minister can advance work on the guidelines at this remove is to immediately issue fresh draft guidelines that reflect international best practice as enforced by fellow European countries, repeat the public consultation and then enact the enabling legislation so that the public can have confidence that the issue has been dealt with in a fair and transparent manner.
The new Irish government, with its large contingent of independent members, now has the opportunity to transparently show that it really does have the health interests of its rural citizens at heart. Or it can revert to the ‘same old, same old’ mentality politics of the past behind closed doors.
The jury is out.
Nigel de Haas,
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