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Wind turbine setback distance up for review

The ongoing dispute over setback distances for wind turbines from residential homes is to go to arbitration, it was confirmed this week.

Confusion has broken out over who has responsibility for setting the required setback distance for wind turbines following a High Court challenge.

However, an independent inspector will be appointed by Planning Minister Simon Coveney before the end of the month.

The inspector is to report back to Minister Coveney, who will then decide on the matter within a further six weeks.

The court challenge was taken by independent Donegal councillor John Campbell against attempts by the last government to standardise setback distances nationally.

Mr Campbell took the court action after the Environment Department overruled efforts by Donegal County Council to introduce guidelines under the county development plan, which stipulated wind turbines could not be erected within 1km of a residential home.

The setback distances allowed under the national guidelines are 500m and over.

The case was listed to be heard in the High Court on June 21, but was settled in advance of the hearing commencing, with both sides agreeing to wait on the findings of the independent inspector.

A statement issued on behalf of Minister Coveney’s department insisted that national planning guidelines on setback distances for wind turbines still applied.

But the uncertainty has sparked differences between wind energy representatives and politicians.

Independent TD for Roscommon Michael Fitzmaurice said the case was “worth a read for councillors”, who could now have the power to legislate for setback distances in their own different municipal and council areas. “I am sure that the Government can agree to a setback distance of 1km from private houses,” he said.

Mr Fitzmaurice said such a move would help communities opposing wind turbine developments throughout the country.

However, Brendan Heneghan of the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) insisted that the current guidelines regarding setback distances for wind turbines remained in force and met with best international practice.

“The current [planning] guidelines, which have delivered for both communities and towards Ireland’s binding renewable energy targets, remain fully in place to ensure that all local authorities have the information and national guidance necessary on the strategic and sensitive planning of wind energy,” Mr Heneghan said.

“These existing guidelines are in line with international best practice, and there are also rigorous processes in place through our planning system to ensure that regulations are strictly adhered to,” he added.