I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill. The issue of planning for wind turbines has caused huge conflict across rural Ireland but particularly in the midlands, in my constituency of Laois and in Offaly. This Sinn Féin Bill is about putting in place solutions to the problems. Rural Ireland will be central to the production of renewable energy in this State but we need to get people in rural Ireland fully on board in order to tap into the immense and diverse supply of renewable energy, which will also provide economic growth and jobs.
The Bill I have put forward follows on from a previous Bill originally produced in 2014, which the Government at the time did not oppose. I will now outline the provisions of some sections of the Bill. Section 3 deals with the issue of local democracy. Wind turbines can only be located in areas designated by local councillors in their county development plans. That rule is supreme and cannot be undermined. Section 4 of the Bill provides for greater community consultation, with the requirement to have public consultations on the effects on health, community and the environment. Section 5 protects homes from both noise and shadow flicker, which is very important. It provides that setback distances should be such that the noise does not exceed specified levels set down by the World Health Organisation, WHO. Section 6 deals with minimum setback distances, with turbines over 25 m required to have a setback distance of not less than ten times the height of the turbine. Under section 10, the developers must pay a bond for the repair of infrastructure. A bond agreement must be entered into between the developer of the wind turbines and the relevant local authority to ensure the infrastructure is repaired and upgraded in a timely manner. Section 11 deals with the option of co-ownership for local residents, which is the norm in many countries. Wind turbine developers must at least offer local residents the opportunity to purchase a stake of up to 20% in the development.
We are proposing a setback distance of ten times the height of a turbine for all turbines over 25 m high. This gives legal protection to those families and home owners across the country, particularly in the midlands, who have been subjected to infringements by huge turbines. Fianna Fáil has previously recommended a setback distance of six times the height of the turbine, while the Government's current consultation document refers to a setback distance of four times the turbine's height from the nearest residential development, with a minimum setback of 500 m. The All-Ireland Research Observatory, AIRO, at Maynooth University states that a setback distance of 2 km would leave 3% of the total land area of the State available for wind development. If the landmass of the Twenty-six Counties is 70,282 sq. km, then 3% of that equates to 2,108 sq. km available for wind turbines. I have heard the argument made that if we used the Sinn Féin setbacks, we would not be able to have wind turbines anywhere. We have researched the issue and I can tell the Minister of State that even a setback of 2 km will leave us with 2,108 sq. km for wind development. That figure was also quoted by Deputy Charlie Flanagan two or three years ago during a debate in this House. That is with a 2 km setback but we are not looking for such a setback. If the wind turbine is 100 m in height, then a setback of 1 km would suffice. In that context, we would have multiples of the 2,108 sq. km available, which would provide wind turbines to power half of Europe. That is the fact of the matter. This would provide a huge level of protection and would allow wind farms to be developed in a sensible, sane and balanced way, without impinging on rural communities.
The argument that this Sinn Féin Bill will halt wind farm development is blown out of the water. It is false. For a one-off small-scale commercial wind turbine development the height cannot be greater than 20 m and, interestingly, it must be 100 m from the nearest dwelling, which is five times the distance. We already have a specific setback distance in place for small-scale turbines but nothing in respect of larger ones. The turbines in Mount Lucas and Ballaghmore in Laois are ginormous.
On health effects, there are various reports on the adverse health effects stemming from noise and shadow flicker and a number of cases have been taken to the courts on such grounds, which means this issue is now bogged down in the legal process. In terms of this Bill, we are trying to address the quality of life issue in respect of which, as I said, cases have been already taken. We need to legislate for the limits set by the World Health Organisation guidelines. The Bill also provides for greater public consultation on potential adverse health effects. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, publicly stated at the Energy in Agriculture Conference in Gurteen on 22 August that there were concerns that in the past developers were allowed to get away with not engaging with local communities and he stressed the need for early and meaningful engagement by developers with the local communities. We agree with him.
I read this week that in County Waterford people are claiming that they have to take sleeping pills because of the noise from wind turbines close to their homes. The issue of community ownership is provided for in this Bill. This should be optional. This works in other countries and it can work here. The Government White Paper on Energy references energy citizens and energy communities. It further references "agents of change in how we generate, transmit, store, conserve and use our energy and that communities must do this." Surely, it must be the stated goal of the Department that there would be an option of buy-in and shared ownership for local communities. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify that in his response.
To date the State has supported the developers while the door to communities has been closed in terms of their rights. We need to move away from that. The only example of community ownership, of which I am aware, is the Templederry wind farm in Tipperary which I visited last year. It is a huge success.
Like much in regard to renewable energy we lag behind other states. In Denmark, the community option is set at 20%. Over 50% of renewable energy sources in Germany are owned by communities, farmers and local people. Currently, we have an outflow of money from rural communities for fossil fuels. We continue to import almost 90% of our fuel for energy. Sinn Féin wants to turn this around by having energy sources in local communities, such as biomass, wind, hydro, solar and electricity generation in local communities, thereby creating jobs and wealth in local communities.
I want to open up the broader debate on renewable energy. Renewable energy does not mean only onshore wind. Currently, we produce 27.3% of our electricity from renewable sources, which is good. However, the vast majority of this is from onshore wind and this leaves us vulnerable because it is an intermittent supply. Government policy in terms of renewables has concentrated on the single option of onshore wind. We are dead in the water when it comes to having a diverse range of sources such as biomass, biogas, solar and other micro-generation projects and offshore renewables. For example, Denmark produces 1,271 megawatts offshore and Scotland, a close neighbour of ours, the second Celtic nation, produces 197 megawatts offshore. We have only one offshore project, Arklow, which is pathetic. There is huge potential here in this regard. While costs are higher for offshore wind, having spoken to people in the industry over the past year or year and a half since I took up this brief, I understand that cost is tumbling. We need to re-examine this area.
Biogas production can include farm waste. We are in the crazy position that we are once again looking for a derogation from Europe in regard to the spread of slurry. I support the call for that derogation because we have nowhere else to go. Large quantities of pig slurry are being produced here and we have sat on our hands and done nothing in terms of trying to come up with solutions. There is an over-concentration of slurry being spread on land such that we now have to seek a derogation from the EU. Sinn Féin supports that proposal as a stop gap measure. I have met the IFA on that issue. Why are we not using slurry to produce biogas? The only anaerobic digestion, AD, plant we have that is of any significance is the one in Kildare which is producing gas for Diageo, which is a huge company. One farmer is supplying Diageo with gas. He is feeding it into the grid and Diageo is buying it from him. Why can we not have more of those plants? Germany has 8,000 anaerobic digestion plants and Britain has 600 of them. Britain is not even a world leader in energy but it has 600 AD plants, which is a long way off what we have. Some Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden, source close to half of all their gas requirements from renewable sources such as biomethane. There is huge progress to be made in this area. A Gas Networks Ireland, GNI, representative stated that we are second last of 24 European states for producing electricity from biogas despite having a huge agriculture sector. We now have an opportunity for a win-win. We need to deal with the slurry issue and find a way of managing it sustainably. If we produce electricity, we create jobs and we put money into farmers' pockets or the pockets of whoever is developing it.
In regard to biomass, we must change from peat to biomass. This is happening gradually because we cannot just shut down plants, even though some people want them closed straight away. We are importing biomass from South America. We need to be growing it here. Bord na Móna launched its renewable energy document at the Ploughing Championships. It does not have the supply of raw material necessary for its plants. That is the problem. In regard to solar micro-generation, there are huge planning issues, with even greater problems for grid connections for the solar industry. The missing piece is policy by the Oireachtas. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, and his officials to look at how we can get solar connection. We are not blessed with a huge amount of sunlight but we do have significant amounts of it. We are blessed with long days for six months of the year. In comparison with other countries, we have more sunlight. In terms of the new technologies available we need to be developing solar energy.
This Sinn Féin Bill is an attempt to deal constructively with this issue. We have had two Governments in the past few years and approximately three Ministers and three Ministers of State have had responsibility for this area. I do not blame them or anybody else for the fact that we have not yet properly addressed this issue but despite all of that we still do not have guidelines in place. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment issued a consultation document on the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, process but according to the Department officials to whom I spoke today at 12.30 p.m. that process has not yet commenced. My understanding is it will take a minimum of six months. I am open to correction if I got that wrong but that is what I understood from the officials. We are not even off the blocks on this issue. What is going on? Does the wind farm industry have somebody's arm twisted up their back? What is going on? To whom is the Government listening? Wind farms are being built without proper planning regulations or guidelines in place. The wind farm developments steam on and there is no protection for the environment or local communities. All of the emphasis is on the wind industry, with no focus on the wider range of renewable sources available. This Bill presents an opportunity to deal with the issue. I am aware that it now requires the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, process.
Some campaign groups pointed that out a few years ago. They had copped on to that. I heard them say that four or five years ago. Will the Minister arrange for that process to be up and running? Legislation also needs to be introduced. We are putting forward a practical solution. We are trying to be constructive. We want to get jobs into rural areas. We want to generate electricity in rural areas from a range of sources. Six or seven sources, along with wind energy, can be used. The source does not have to be solely wind energy, but we need protection from huge wind farm developments. The midlands and other counties do not have that. Communities will not accept what has been happening to date with wind farms.
We have the potential to be a world leader in this area. Let us getting moving with this and put a proper planning framework in place for the development of wind farms.