Wind farm developers who fail to consult with local communities could be forced to build their turbines up to 1km from homes under new plans being devised by Denis Naughten, the energy minister.
Naughten is reviewing wind farm regulations with Simon Coveney, the housing and planning minister, and wants wind energy firms to engage with residents living near their developments. Firms that engage in a meaningful way will be able to locate turbines as close as 500m to family homes with consent, but those who fail to hold proper consultation could face setback distances double that.
“The minister wants real community engagement with [an offer of] benefits,” said a spokeswoman. Benefits could include shares in the wind farm, or other forms of compensation for a community. “He wants the removal of shadow flicker and the introduction of the most modern sound regulations in the world,” she said.
Naughten, Coveney and their officials are anxious to ensure the requirement for community consultation will not give minority interests a veto on developments, however. The two ministers are due to bring a joint memo to cabinet before Christmas, with the aim of producing new wind energy guidelines by the end of the year.
“There has been a legal case taken in Wallonia in Belgium quite recently, which now means we have to go through a further round of consultation on the regulations before they can come into force,” Naughten’s spokeswoman said. “Our focus is on trying to get a fair balance that protects local communities.”
The ministers are thought to be considerably closer on agreeing the question of setback distances for wind turbines than their Labour Party predecessors, Alex White and Alan Kelly, managed to get.
White, energy minister from 2014 to 2016, was reported to favour a 500m setback distance while Kelly, then the environment minister, wanted up to 1.5km.
The government has committed to ensure that 40% of electricity generated in Ireland will come from renewable sources by 2020. But the existing electricity grid infrastructure will require expansion and modernisation before it can handle further volumes of wind-generated power.
A European Court of Justice judgment in the Wallonia case requires a strategic environmental assessment be carried out on the impact of new rules and this process will involve a round of public consultation with all stakeholders in the wind energy sector.
The process could add a further six to nine months to the adoption of new industry standards, but draft guidelines will be published after cabinet discussion to feed into the public consultation.
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