I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 93 together.
The policy of promoting renewable energy in Ireland has been in existence since the mid-1990s. High dependence on imported fossil fuels and the imperative to respond to the challenges of climate change have underpinned the switch to renewable energy. This policy has been reinforced at EU level, most recently with the decision to pursue a separate directive on renewable energy with a legally binding target at member state level. The target assigned to Ireland under the 2009 directive was that 16% of all energy consumption must be from renewable resources by 2020 with a minimum of 10% in the transport sector.
The directive required each member state to complete a national renewable energy action plan setting out how the target would be met across the heat, electricity and transport sectors.
Ireland indicated it would achieve this target with 40% renewable electricity, 10% renewable transport and 12% renewable heat.
The national action plan also required member states to provide a technological breakdown. Ireland indicated in this breakdown that the bulk of its renewable electricity would be delivered by wind power. This was underpinned by the Commission for Energy Regulation's Gate 3 direction of December 2008 which provided for sufficient grid connections to a specified list of projects, most of which were wind energy projects, for 40% renewable electricity to be achieved by 2020. The Grid 25 strategy and implementation plans undertaken by EirGrid to underpin the Gate 3 roll-out. The strategy for renewable energy 2012-20 which I published last year again highlighted the key role wind power would play in Ireland's renewable energy policy.
At a national level, the action plan, the strategy for renewable energy 2012-20, the Gate 3 grid connection direction issued by the regulator and EirGrid's Grid 25 implementation plans underpin how it is envisaged that wind energy projects will develop. At local authority level, authorities are required to have regard to the wind energy planning guidelines produced by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government when compiling their development plans. Many local authorities produce wind energy strategies as part of this process. The planning process in Ireland provides extensive opportunities for public involvement, including a third party appeals process.
Wind farms are commercially developed and require both grid connections and planning permission. When a wind farm is developed in a particular location, payments are made to landowners for rental, while rates are paid to local authorities. There can also be additional benefits and employment opportunities for local communities.
A study undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Western Development Commission of the potential for community ownership of wind farms in Ireland found that communities were likely to run into significant resource difficulties if they attempted to develop 100% community-owned wind energy projects. It found that the most promising investment option that communities could consider was that of participating in commercial projects once such projects had secured planning consent, a grid connection agreement and a contract for the sale of electricity. I note that the tax based business expansion scheme - relief for investment in corporate trades - may provide some options for local communities for investment in commercial wind farms. The Government's policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure which I published last July recognises the need and urgency for new energy infrastructure. It notes that the planning process provides the necessary framework for ensuring all necessary standards are met and that consultation is built into the process.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
It also acknowledges the need for social acceptance and the appropriateness of energy project developers examining appropriate means of building community gain considerations into project planning and budgeting. I also note that wind farms of more than 50 turbines or having a total output greater than 100 megawatts fall under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006. The Act provides that the board may attach conditions to an approval. In the use of community gain such conditions can provide for the construction or financing in whole or in part of a facility or the provision or financing in whole or in part of a service in the area in which the proposed development would be situated which, in the opinion of the board, would constitute a substantial gain to the community.
Many wind farms voluntarily include additional benefits to local communities as part of their project developments. I understand the Irish Wind Energy Association which represents a large portion of the wind energy sector intends to issue guidelines to its members, recommending that a minimum annual contribution per megawatt of wind energy installed be provided for local communities for local projects.
In order to ensure Ireland continues to meet its renewable energy targets, while at the same time ensuring wind energy projects do not have negative impacts on local communities, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with my Department and other stakeholders, is undertaking a targeted review of certain aspects of the wind energy guidelines 2006. This focused review is examining the manner in which the guidelines address key issues of community concern such as noise proximity and shadow flicker. An initial consultation on the revision of the guidelines has been undertaken in recent weeks and all submissions will be considered prior to a proposed revision being published.