‘We’ve taken our fair share of wind-farms’ was the strong view of councillors at Monday’s full meeting of Kerry County Council, where revised national ‘Wind Energy Development Draft Guidelines’ were debated.
Over 350 wind turbines operate in Kerry, producing between 16 and 19 percent of the country’s wind energy output. This caused many councillors to say Kerry has done its ‘fair share’ in terms of energy generated from wind.
The draft guidelines propose a setback distance of four times the tip height between a wind turbine and the nearest point of curtilage in the vicinity of a residential property (500 meters of a minimum distance).
The 215-page document was published last December, and Monday’s meeting was the first time it was debated between councillors. They outlined concerns over the existing rate of wind-farm development and said communities and Kerry’s precious landscape was already taking its fair share.
Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae tabled a motion calling on the council to submit a minimum setback distance of seven times the tip height of a turbine from a dwelling, and a minimum mandatory setback distance of 750 meters.
“This is of vital importance and we’re doing our bit as it is,” he said.
“In the past we’ve looked for 10 times the height between a turbine and a dwelling. This is unrealistic. I don’t think we’re being careful and sensitive of the landscape at present in terms of wind development,” Cllr Healy Rae added.
As Kerry’s coastline incorporates the Wild Atlantic Way, Kerry County Council is to ask that the popular tourist amenity be taken into consideration in the new guidelines. However, councillors based in the north of the county say the horse has already bolted in this regard.
“Where I live in Ballylongford, people are directly affected by wind-farm development. The Wild Atlantic Way in Tarbert is full of turbines,” said FG Cllr Michael Foley.
“How can Kerry County Council on the one hand promote tourism in my area when they’re also saying our landscape is of no tourism importance? The ‘Landscape Character Assessment’ voted for in this Chamber means councillors were either asleep or didn’t know what they were doing. People in my area can’t sleep at night because of the noise from wind-farms,” he added.
FF Cllr Jimmy Moloney and FG Cllr Aoife Thornton also voiced their frustration over suggestions that being on the Wild Atlantic Way will somehow be a condition of planning.
“What consideration is being given to wind-farms on landscapes already affected?” Cllr Moloney said.
“There’s a genuine fear here that if Kerry County Council say no to a wind-farm development along the Wild Atlantic Way that an appeal to An Board Pleanála is going to say that the case for turbines already exists along the Wild Atlantic Way.”
Cllr Thornton proposed that KCC look at changing the development levy for wind-farm developers due to damaged local roads caused during the construction phase of wind-farms.
“The roads in north Kerry are savagely torn apart because of this development. It’s how we’re going to deal with what’s there already that’s a concern. We need a proper discussion about where we’re at and what is foreseen as the future of wind-farm development in Kerry,” she said.
FF Cllr Norma Foley argued that Kerry already has one of the highest densities of wind development in the country. “We’ve done our bit. The quality of life for people in these areas is being destroyed by what’s happening. We should ask that the rest of the country does its fair share as well,” she said.
FF Cllr Michael O’Shea said it was hard to explain the logic in people being refused planning permission for a house and then seeing ‘this monstrosity of a development’ going up.
He called for more to be done in looking into offshore wind-farm development.
“Have we not looked at comparable cases in other countries?” he asked.
“We have the most beautiful landscape in the country and it’s our responsibility to look after it.
“We should say enough is enough. There’s nothing about battery storage facilities in the report, either. We’re told these are ticking time bombs. We need to explore offshore development,” Cllr O’Shea added.
However, this suggestion did not meet the approval of everyone. FF Cllr Michael Cahill and SF Cllr Cathal Foley both objected to the idea, expressing caution:”We’ve reached saturation point in Kerry where wind-farm development is concerned. I would be cautious about offshore development. Our offshore is a very unique and delicate environment, and I wouldn’t want to see any wind turbines offshore,” said Cllr Foley.
Cllr Cahill said more expert knowledge of offshore development was needed: “We need to bring in experts to look at this and we need to be very careful about offshore wind-farms,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cllr Johnny Healy-Rae outlined his view that wind-farm development, in suitable areas, has the potential to return an economic dividend.
“There are places suitable that can bring economic benefits. I would say that before we try to introduce a blanket ban that there are suitable places. We have something to gain from this when it’s done properly,” he said.
In its submission to the Department, KCC said it plans to make the Wild Atlantic Way ‘a matter of principle’; existing road conditions will be ‘very much’ part of its future wind-farm development policy; coastal wind-farms are to be considered; all grid storage facilities will be placed underground; communities will be consulted prior to submitting wind-farm planning applications; the existing contribution of Kerry’s wind energy output is to be outlined, while the importance of Kerry’s scenic landscape to the tourist economy will also form part of KCC’s proposals to the Department.
It was agreed by a majority of councillors that a distance of 7 to 10 meters setback distance between turbines and residential property be included in KCC’s submission.
New proposals on the Draft Revised Energy Development guidelines
The planning authority or An Bord Pleanála will impose conditions on wind-farm developers to ensure that any community investment/benefit/dividend is proposed in a ‘Community Report’. This is will have to accompany a planning application. A dividend of €2 per MW, per hour, is suggested as a guideline that could be donated to a community fund where development is proposed. Other stakeholders may include local residents, businesses and business groups, community associations, a local environmental body, schools, and other key local service providers.
Considered a cornerstone of wind-farm development if it is to be a long-term, workable solution that benefits communities, economy and environment. Wind energy developers will be required to engage in active public consultation with the local community at an early stage. Developers will have to prepare and submit a ‘Community Report’ as part of their planning application outlining how they have consulted and engaged with the local community regarding the proposed development and how they will work with the local community to allow for the free flow of information between the community and the developer at all stages in the project.
The draft guidelines require a setback distance, for visual amenity purposes, of four times the tip height between a wind turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property in the vicinity of the proposed development, subject to a minimum mandatory setback distance of 500 metres. This setback requirement is also subject to the need to comply with limits above.
Noise and flicker
The draft guidelines include proposed new standards aimed at reducing noise nuisance from wind energy developments for local residents and communities. The proposed new standards are in line with the most up-to-date international standards, as incorporated in the 2018 World Health Organisation Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region. The permitted noise levels will take account of certain noise characteristics specific to wind energy projects – tonal, amplitude modulation and low-frequency noise – and provide penalties for tonal noise and amplitude modulation and a threshold for low frequency noise which, if breached, will result in turbine shut down. The implementation of a new robust noise monitoring framework is also proposed. A wind-farm may also be taken down if ‘light flicker’ is a problem, even after construction.
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