The proposed changes to the wind energy development guidelines have been described as “underwhelming” by the new mayor of the Mullingar Municipal District, Cllr Andrew Duncan.
Published last Tuesday in one of Simon Coveney’s last actions as Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, the proposed changes to the 2006 guidelines include a new setback distance of four times the height of a turbine, subject to the mandatory minimum setback distance of 500m.
Other proposed changes include the application of a “more stringent noise limit, consistent with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, in tandem with a new robust noise monitoring regime, to ensure compliance with noise standards”, the elimination of shadow flicker and the introduction of new obligations relating to engagement with communities.
Minister Coveney, who said that the guidelines should be finalised by early next year, said that the new proposals “strike the appropriate balance between facilitating future wind energy projects, in the context of ensuring we can deliver on our EU renewable energy targets, while simultaneously addressing the genuine concerns of local communities in the areas where wind farm developments are proposed”.
“It is important that we are in a position to give greater clarity to stakeholders, local authorities, the energy sector and the wider community as to the broad direction that the review is taking, which will be subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment process and involve public consultation.”
Minister Coveney’s party colleague Cllr Andrew Duncan, who is also a spokesman for the Lakeland Windfarm Information Group, said that he was “underwhelmed” by the proposals as they gave “too much emphasis” to the submissions from windfarm developers compared to community groups.
The one proposal which gives him a “little bit of hope” are the proposed changes to noise limit. If they are strictly enforced to WHO standards, Cllr Duncan believes that in effect it would mean a setback distance of a least one kilometre from the nearest house.
However, the Fine Gael man is sceptical that the proposed limits will be enforced by local authorities, which are set to be given the responsibility for monitoring noise levels.
“I’m worried that if it’s left to local authorities, they will not want a lot to do with it. If it’s done right it will work, but I don’t believe it will be done right.
“What will happen is developers will build turbines and no one will care. If there is an issue, it’s proposed that a machine costing a couple of million euro will be turned off. If anyone realistically expects that to happen then they are clinging to false hope,” Cllr Duncan said.
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