Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

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.

I thank Deputy Stanley for bringing forward the Wind TurbineRegulation Bill, which is timely from a number of perspectives. I have no doubt the Bill is well-intentioned and aims to regulate wind energy development by addressing a number of key issues. I welcome the opportunity provided by the Deputy’s Bill to discuss the current state of play in the development of the wind energy sector, which is an important issue for this Government, but I want to be clear that we will be opposing the Bill.

At the outset of this debate, it is necessary to set out the wider context of this issue. The development of renewable energy, including wind energy, is at the centre of this Government’s energy policy. The availability of indigenous, sustainable power is a valuable national asset which is vital for achieving energy security and reducing fossil fuel imports, as well as for achieving challenging EU emissions reduction and renewable energy targets. A hallmark of our energy policy approach to date has been to encourage green energy investment. Maintaining a favourable investment climate for the renewable energy sector and sustaining regulatory stability in Ireland has been critical in facilitating the build out of renewable energy infrastructure to this point.

Given Ireland’s heavy over-reliance on imported fossil fuels, the development of indigenous onshore wind, which in June 2017 accounted for more than 2,800 MW connected to the grid, is making a positive contribution to our energy security and avoiding approximately 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The development of the wind sector in Ireland is subject to the planning code in the same manner as other forms of development. Local authority development plans are required to achieve a balance in harnessing the wind energy resources of the planning authority’s area in a manner that is consistent with national policy objectives and proper planning and sustainable development. In this connection, planning authorities are required to have regard to my Department’s Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006 which contain advice to assist planning authorities in drawing up their local development plans and making determinations on wind farm planning applications. In effect, this guidance is aimed at ensuring a consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification in local development plans of suitable locations for wind energy development as well as in the treatment of planning applications for such developments while also having regard to relevant national Government policy, including energy policy.

As the Deputy will be aware, a targeted review of the 2006 guidelines has been under way since 2013. As set out in A Programme for Partnership Government, the Government is committed to concluding the review of the guidelines as speedily as possible with a view to offering a better balance between the concerns of local communities and the need to invest in indigenous energy projects, informed by the public consultation process and best international practice.

Since reaching agreement on A Programme for a Partnership Government in May 2016, there has been close engagement on the review of the guidelines at both ministerial and official level between my Department and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, given its responsibility for renewable energy policy. On foot of this engagement, in June this year the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment announced a key milestone in the review of the guidelines by announcing details of a proposed preferred draft approach to key aspects of the review which will now be subject to a strategic environmental assessment before the guidelines are finalised and adopted. I confirm that assessment has to go to tender and the publication in respect to applications for that tender will take place tomorrow. There will be a period of a month within which people can offer to apply to do that strategic environmental assessment project. That is the update on that aspect that the Deputy sought.

This preferred draft approach was outlined to provide an update to the public, industry stakeholders and planning authorities on progress being made on the review. It sets out proposals to deal with aspects of the guidelines relating to noise, setback distance and shadow flicker, community engagement and benefit, and also policy on grid connections from wind farms to the electricity transmission and distribution system.

On the specifics of the Deputy’s Bill which is the subject of this debate, I would like to outline how the Government is addressing some of its key provisions. Regarding section 2, which provides limits on the export of power generated from wind turbines, the Government’s current policy on the export of electricity is set out in the 2012 renewable energy strategy which, in accordance with European law, supports the export of renewable energy to other EU member states. However, it is a precondition that any such export would bring clear and significant benefit to the Irish economy at no net cost to the Irish consumer. This policy is currently being reviewed in the context of the draft renewable electricity policy and development framework being developed by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and his Department, which will update policy on potential future energy exports. The setting out of national policy on this matter, in Government strategies or policy frameworks, is a more appropriate approach than providing for it in primary legislation as proposed in the Deputy's Bill. In addition, the provisions in section 2 could result in significant operational and market design implications for EirGrid, in the management of energy flows on the east-west interconnector and potentially for future interconnectors.

Section 3 relates to the location of turbines, providing that all locations for proposed wind turbines must be designated in county development plans, be consistent with the development plan and be designated with the approval of the elected members. This is already largely the case but the key point that is missing here is that local development plans must also have regard to national policy, including energy policy, as well as section 28 guidance issued by the Minister to local authorities on the drawing up of development plans. Section 3 is particularly problematic in that it proposes that local authorities could effectively act independently and set their own local wind energy development policy in their development plans without having regard to national policy or guidance. This would be a retrograde step which would militate against the achievement of national policy objectives and, accordingly, the Government strongly opposes this section.

I want to address sections 4, 5 and 6 in regard to public consultation, noise limits, shadow flicker and wind farm setback distances. In this context, it should be noted that the recently announced preferred draft approach addresses these issues by proposing the following: the application of a more stringent noise limit, consistent with World Health Organization standards, in tandem with a new robust noise monitoring and enforcement regime to ensure compliance with noise standards; a visual amenity setback of four times the turbine height between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum distance of 500 m; the elimination of shadow flicker through requirements to operate automated wind turbine control mechanisms as a condition of the grant of planning permission; and the introduction of new obligations in regard to engagement with local communities by wind farm developers along with the provision of community benefit measures. In this connection, a wide range of community, spatial planning, energy policy, environmental, technological and industry considerations need to be appropriately balanced. The proposed preferred draft approach is aimed at achieving this broad balance which would not be possible under the provisions of the Deputy's Bill.

In addition to the concerns I expressed in regard to section 3, we must also oppose the setback distance provisions in section 6 which proposes that turbines with a height of greater than 25 m shall be located not less than a distance of ten times the height of the turbine away from any dwelling. This provision would significantly reduce the amount of land available throughout the country for wind farm development, thereby stymying the industry and minimising the possibilities for achieving our renewable energy targets while simultaneously exposing the State to substantial EU fines.

Another aspect of the Bill to which I would like to refer to briefly is the section 11 provisions on co-ownership of wind farms for local communities. In this regard, the Government recognises that community consultation and community dividend are important components of future wind farm development, with both community ownership and part-ownership of wind energy projects by local communities being encouraged. Under the preferred draft approach, it is proposed to oblige developers of wind farm projects to engage in active consultation and dialogue with the local community at an early stage in the process prior to submitting a planning application. It is further proposed that planning applications shall contain a community report prepared by the applicant outlining how the final proposal has been modified to take account of the community consultations undertaken.

In addition, the new renewable electricity support scheme, for which a consultation was launched on 4 September 2017, has community participation and ownership designed into its fabric. The consultation sets out a number of policy options to support both community-led projects and developer-led projects with material community involvement and benefit. In particular, the consultation is examining how to facilitate the development of community-led renewable electricity projects by providing initial funding, technical and legal advice to communities seeking to develop renewable projects. The Deputy asked me whether we would be supporting communities. That is the intention in that respect and that is set out in that consultation document. Furthermore, multiple support mechanisms, including financial supports, infrastructural supports, including facilitating access to the grid for community-led projects and technical support for communities as their projects progress through to commissioning, are also being assessed.

Larger-scale developer-led renewable electricity projects will have to meet certain criteria in terms of offering investment opportunities to local communities. The ownership policy option is not limited to offering an equity stake, however, and the proposals put forward are aimed at maximising citizen and community participation. The consultation also proposes a formalised community benefit payments register which will provide financial benefits to the entire community, including those unable to participate in the ownership proposals. As each project and each community will be different, I do not believe it is appropriate to provide for co-ownership of wind farms by local communities in the quite prescriptive manner as proposed in section 11 of the Deputy's Bill and that, instead, this issue can be better addressed in the manner proposed in the preferred draft approach and in the draft renewable electricity support scheme.

I will respond to some of the Deputy's comments and I will come back in towards the end of the debate with other comments. He mentioned offshore wind development. The State is investing a great deal of money in research projects involving many stakeholders relating to the offshore possibilities of wind and other renewable energies. Many good projects are emerging in conjunction with the research community. Hopefully, there will be potential to develop offshore wind energy and we will achieve success. As an island nation, we could lead on some of these projects and that is what we are trying to do. We recognise it is more difficult in some of our waters compared to other parts of Europe to develop wind energy and that adds to the cost. We are making significant investment in technical solutions as well and we will be successful. In my previous role as Minister of State with responsibility for research and development, I witnessed first hand some of the work that is going in on and I am confident there will be great progress in this regard in the near future.

The Deputy also mentioned other renewable energy proposals, which we very much encourage. He referred to pig slurry and anaerobic digesters. That is a conversation for local councillors and local communities who are not always supportive of these plans. I agree with him that there is great potential in this regard. Projects have been knocked for planning reasons and there have been other objections. Sometimes their scale is too vast. Along with others, I visited projects abroad and if they are done on the right scale, they can be favourable to communities. That is something we can probably work on together and I would be happy to do that along with other Departments.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate and I thank Deputy Stanley for initiating a debate in the House on this issue. All of us who represent rural communities will be familiar with the concerns of our constituents in many parts of the country who have had in their view a negative experience with infrastructure such as wind turbines. While the Deputy and I share their concerns, in many ways we differ on how they should be resolved. Support for the Bill will not bring about the kind of resolution that is required.

Fianna Fáil opposes the Bill for a number of reasons, all of which centre on the interests of the people. In the first instance, the provisions of the Bill would effectively stop any further developments of wind turbines in Ireland due to the extreme restrictions proposed. Second, this Bill entirely circumvents the consultation that has been opened on the wind energy guidelines, a draft of which was published in June 2017. My party and I are strongly of the view that this consultation gives everybody an opportunity to have their say and, ultimately and collectively, we can find an appropriate solution that meets the needs of all sides rather than rushing to a conclusion through the passage of this legislation, which would not be in the long-term best interests of our objectives in renewable energy while, at the same time, ensuring the needs and expectations of people living in rural areas who want to enjoy that amenity are also protected. We recognise and sympathise with the considerable issues that irresponsible wind development has caused for people in recent decades, and it is crucial that we conduct a full and exhaustive consultation to protect communities from further encroachment. To this end, we will fully engage with the consultation process that has been put in place, and ensure public consultation is to the fore of any legislation and guidelines that are put in place.

By contrast, simply overriding existing consultative structures would deny people an opportunity to shape wind energy policy. That is my only concern about the passage of Deputy Stanley's Bill. It would bring to an end to the consultation process. This process, however, can only be of immense benefit. He is entirely well-intentioned. I sit on the environment committee with him and I am aware of his personal desires and of his vast experience in this area but we have to ensure there is not a populist race to see who can appear to be most tune with where people are at. I do not suggest that is the case with him. He mentioned in his contribution that the Government proposed a set back distance four times the current distance while Fianna Fáil in the past suggested six times whereas he is suggesting ten times. We have to be careful that we are not just looking for headlines using soundbites in a manner that will meet the needs of those who are most concerned about a project in a particular area. I am party spokesperson in this area and the Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, has reflected to me on many occasions on behalf of his constituents the concerns they have around the wind farm in Sliabh Bawn, County Roscommon, and the necessity to tackle issues that arise there. In attempting to resolve those extreme cases-----

They are the norm.

Perhaps they are not extreme because there are other cases. Decisions were taken in the past that were not in the best interests of communities but in our desire to reflect the concerns of those affected, we should not undermine the potential of onshore wind energy, which will play an important role in our climate change agenda.

Furthermore, the Bill contains provisions which would leave Ireland open to huge legal liabilities. For example, section 2 mandates that Ireland may not export wind energy until such time as Ireland is entirely self-sufficient in energy consumption. This is an entirely incorrect understanding of the global energy market, and in particular, of the Integrated Single Electricity Market, I-SEM, from which Irish consumers can only benefit significantly. Climate change poses a threat to humanity, with Ireland being no exception. As a coastal nation with a huge economic reliance on our abundant natural resources, we are exposed to climatic shifts, such as increased storms, increased or changed precipitation patterns, droughts, and coastal erosion. As a nation with a proud record on the international stage, we must set an example for other nations to move toward a cleaner and greener mode of living. Wind energy, while not a fix-all, will, and should, play a role in this. As politicians, we must do the right thing and support wind energy development, where it is appropriate and does not infringe on our people. There is an element of a trade-off; it is not one or the other. We must find an integrated way for wind energy projects to live in harmony with people who reside in rural areas based on the broadest and deepest level of consultation. Mistakes were made in the past and we must be careful not to rush to judgment in a way that could be perceived as populist and driven by a soundbite suggesting that one party or grouping or one side of the House or the other has all the answers to this problem. The best way forward is the consultative forum that has been established.

We are all aware of the importance of renewable energy and its global backdrop. The EU has set 2020 renewable energy targets for each member state. Ireland is obliged to meet the target of 16% for all energy generated from renewable sources by 2020. This renewables target is to be met by 40% from electricity, 12% from heat and 10% from transport. We are falling way behind on heat and transport. With the world population projected to be more than 9 billion by 2050, the demand for remaining fossil fuels can only intensify, driving oil and gas prices skywards.

This, married with growing geopolitical instability, is threatening energy security. Ireland is not fully self-sufficient and we are excessively dependent on energy imports to power homes and businesses. It is imperative that we plot a course towards carbon-neutral self-sufficiency to meet the emerging energy supply challenges. A lack of engagement with communities has, unfortunately, been all too common in renewable energy project development and this has caused widespread distress and inconvenienced many communities. That was the catalyst for the Deputy in bringing forward the Bill. Strong community support must be integral to further renewable energy project development. Until now, community benefit schemes have primarily taken the form of amenity payments such as donations to a local GAA centre or other community related activities. This has worked well for some communities, but there are others for which it is not an attractive option. We must look for new and different ways for communities to benefit from local energy project development.

In other jurisdictions such as Denmark a minimum number of shares must be offered on a preferential basis to the local community. Furthermore, in Scotland community development of renewable energy projects, whereby a community sets up and owns a renewable energy project, enjoys far greater logistical and financial support. Community developments have the added benefit of involving citizens more fully in the production of energy. For that reason we must more broadly engage the community.

We want to replace outdated wind energy project planning guidelines with new guidelines to be put on a statutory footing. This must be done through a full public consultation process, as initiated for the draft guidelines. As I stated, my party will engage fully with in process and bring forward its own ideas on how a community can benefit from these developments in a way that will address some of the concerns and ensure we do not eliminate the potential for the development of onshore energy projects through the wind energy sector. We believe in the commissioning of a full economic review of wind energy, its impact on energy prices and the long-term sustainability of the sector in supplying the national grid. We want to ensure all county development plans will involve a wind energy strategy being submitted for public consultation in advance of any wind turbine construction. We also want to introduce a new community share options scheme for proposed wind farms whereby the local community must be given the option of purchasing a minimum of 20% of the shares, creating a sustainable wealth source for it. We also want to introduce a new compensation provision for properties with a decreased property value as a result of the construction of wind turbines. I will expand on this in our submission.

The party would introduce new noise and shadow flicker restrictions, reflecting international best practice, and examine the potential for increasing the number of offshore wind farms in Ireland and mapping areas where such a development could take place. This will require support from the State. From my discussions with those involved in the offshore wind energy sector, the greatest potential lies off the western seaboard, but there are very challenging conditions that must be addressed through support schemes. We must consider the same support we see for the development of tidal and wave energy technologies. In the first instance, we must support investment in that area.

I welcome the opportunity to have a debate on this very important matter and commend Deputy Brian Stanley for bringing forward this legislation. The context is very important. As the Minister of State indicated, the targeted review of the 2006 guidelines has been under way since 2013. I was in the Department as a Minister of State when we started this work, which is an indication that we must come to a conclusion on this issue as it has been debated and batted backwards and forwards, particularly in rural communities. The context is that we must have no doubts in bringing our carbon output down to levels we are both obliged to and want to achieve as a community. We want to get to a point where we are carbon neutral and can address these matters.

There is also a context in which changing technology must be taken into account. Onshore wind energy projects have made a great contribution. The Minister of State spoke about the 2,800 MW connected to the grid that makes a positive contribution to our energy security and leads us to avoid 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That is true and it will continue on existing wind farms and those which it will be appropriate to develop in the future. The most exciting technological changes are offshore, as Deputy Timmy Dooley mentioned.

There is another context related to the consultation process for the national planning framework that has been ongoing. It is due to come to a conclusion and the Government plans to publish the framework next month. One of the key questions asked in the consultation document concerned the infrastructural investments required to maximise the potential of our ocean resources. It comes under the heading of integrated land and marine development. I agree with other speakers that the potential offshore is very encouraging. There are cost reductions and we can look to countries such as Scotland as an example. We need to accept that the dynamic is changing constantly and that what might have been the case in 2013 has changed as a result. As the guidelines will be reviewed again, we must come to conclusions now.

I will quote from the submission I made on behalf of the Labour Party in the consultation process on the national planning framework under the heading of land and sea. It states:

The national planning framework will need to incorporate a marine spatial strategy that defines the optimum relationship with the sea around us, including planning for coastal zones, the foreshore and its interaction with the land. Ireland's potential to replace fossil fuels with offshore energy sources is an opportunity that simply must be exploited during the lifetime of the plan. Technology is advancing in terms of the cost-effectiveness of wind and wave energy. The plan must commit to the necessary research and investment in what is potentially a huge win for the environment, the economy and the coastal communities of Ireland.

I linked the matter with the west coast, as Deputy Timmy Dooley has done, citing the example of the Wild Atlantic Way in bringing jobs and opportunities to that part of the country. So too could offshore energy projects. We are all supportive of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but there must be a focus on other resources. Others have mentioned sectors such as hydro, solar, geothermal, biomass, wave, tidal and biofuels, etc., which must all contribute to a sustainable outcome for the future.

On balance, we have decided to support Deputy Brian Stanley's Bill. My colleague, Deputy Willie Penrose, has published a related Bill and although we do not agree on every item in this legislation, the Government might accept it, as has happened many times before. It has accepted Bills on Second Stage and amended them on Committee Stage. It is a reasonable and balanced approach. There are elements about noise levels that could probably be agreed to across the Chamber and the issue of shadow flicker has been debated extensively. There are differing views on setback distances, but relating height to setback distances is something on which everybody agrees, although there are different views on how it should be measured exactly. There is also the matter of community gain and consultation. The co-ownership idea put forward by Deputy Brian Stanley has been labelled as problematic by the Government, but at the same time there is broad agreement on the need for consultation with local communities, which is vital, and for the community to have a gain, a stake and a say. Nothing will be successful, unless the community can believe it is getting something from it. It is an important element of what Deputy Brian Stanley has proposed.

We will support the Bill on Second Stage, although, as I mentioned, we may not agree with every line of it.

The context has to be ensuring that we reach our targets and exceed them in ways I think is possible. However, that will be dependent on more than just wind energy. There is large potential in other areas of renewable energy. Biomass energy has not been exploited in the way it should. Offshore energy is particularly encouraging and solar power can also be harnessed. I have a particular attachment to hydroelectric power because I grew up on the banks of the headrace of the Ardnacrushasa hydroelectric power station, with which Deputy Dooley is also familiar. That was a very brave move by the Government of the time in terms of embracing the idea of alternative energy. That was done very successfully. At the time it was thought to be slightly off the wall but it has since proved itself. We have certainly got plenty of water in Ireland so that is another area of potential.

The Labour Party will support the Bill in principle on Second Stage. It is disappointing that it appears the Bill will get no further. It is a debate that must be continued and is dynamic in terms of changing costs and technology. No Member should take a fixed position on the issue because it is constantly changing. Guidelines are needed. All Members have prevaricated long enough on settling on those guidelines. In terms of the preferred draft approach, there will be a strategic environmental assessment. I am not sure how long that will take, but the Minister of State said the tenders will be called for tomorrow. I do not know if he can tell us how long it will take but it is an area on which there are strong feelings across the country and on which decisions have to be made.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I commend Deputy Stanley on bringing it forward. His views on wind turbines are somewhat different from mine. I have listened with interest to the points made by Members and I have noted the references to the public consultation. If there is to be public consultation, one needs to get to the nub of the issue. Communities in parts of rural Ireland where there are wind turbines, for example, that are 100 m in height and 500 m or 600 m setback - Deputy Dooley said that a setback of 600 m is Fianna Fáil policy - are experiencing serious problems. People are not making things up. They do not complain for the sake of complaining, nor are they against things for the sake of being against them. Many of those people embrace different forms of energy. There can be problems even if there is 700 m setback. In countries where turbines are at a ratio of 10:1 there have been no problems. It was said at Government talks that suitable areas would be limited to approximately 5% of the country. Members and the country as a whole need to decide if we will put our people first or if we will listen to the EU ramming something at us under our so-called obligations. We should ensure that people in those areas do not have to live a life of hell. There are people who never objected to the establishment of wind farms but cannot now stay in their homes at night because of the noise. The experience of people living near Sliabh Bán wind farm is an example of that. That is the reality. It is not made-up stuff. Unfortunately, some elderly people had to leave their homes due to flooding. Part of that is currently being resolved. The three issues that Members need to decide on in regard to wind turbines are setback distance, flicker and noise.

Members have said that we need to move away from fossil fuels. They are entitled to their opinions. However, they have said that we are exporting the money out of the country. I point to the fact that most wind farms in Ireland have been bought up by foreign vulture funds and Japanese companies. How will that money stay in Ireland? This is a sickening thing that is happening. I read recently that 60% of a wind farm has been bought by a Japanese company. That money will not stay in Ireland. Members will be aware that Bord na Móna is going to America to produce a product that the person who grows it, the person who hauls it and the boat that brings it across the Atlantic will get more out of than anyone in Ireland. Where is the benefit in that for the Irish people? This issue is particularly relevant to people in the west of Ireland, with the resources there. Members need to ensure that if this is the road that is being taken, offshore wind energy is considered, as the Minister of State mentioned. That may be a way of going forward.

We need to be very straight with people on the proposed consultation. I have seen many documents go out to consultation, all of which came back. There is currently a proposal that a wind turbine cannot be closer than 500 m to a residence. However, if it is 120 m or 130 m high and just over 500 m from housing, residents will have problems. We can have all the consultation in the world but we must decide whether people in certain areas of the country are going to be tormented by wind turbines because the Legislature did not set a sufficient setback distance. When wind turbines are set back 1000 m, there do not appear to be any problems. That is the best guide by which one can go.

In a similar way to how if one works the land, one knows the land, if one is beside or a certain distance away from a wind turbine, one knows what is and is not a problem. That is very easy to assess throughout the country. The big problem is that many people will go through the consultation process but thereafter one must deal with the EU and our so-called obligations. If that means there must be a setback distance of 400 m, 500 m or 600 m, that is what Members will vote on in the House and if there is a majority, it will be passed. Unfortunately, that would lead to problems for people in certain areas. There has already been a court case in Ireland in relation to flicker from a wind turbine. People should not have to live a life of hell. They were there before the turbine was there. They might have worked the land for possibly the past 100 years and now because of turbines in the area, it has gone up. There are certain parts of this country in which there would be no problem achieving a 10:1 radius. I do not understand why the Government does not focus on that and ensure that, on one side, there is adherence to whatever agreements are made and, on the other, that rural communities can live in peace.

There are huge opportunities in renewable energy. I spoke to a person in Kildare in recent days who discussed biogas and the potential of silage. That may be of help to a farmer if the beef barons think they will keep him or her at bay with the price of cattle. If it works out and is efficient, that will be welcome. Members have discussed exporting electricity and so on. Based on what England has done, Ireland is not exporting very much power. An interconnector to bring power in from France has been proposed.

The public service obligation, PSO, levy has risen again this year for the ordinary people to subsidise something. Peat was subsidised but I do not agree with that. Every year the price is raised by the back door because we are dealing with things that cannot stand on their own and are not viable, for the sake of legislation to which we have signed up. Electricity will have to become much dearer to make viable some of the systems that are in place. We will then lose out on the manufacturing side because we will not be able to compete with countries such as Germany. There are some companies in the west of Ireland who were at the National Ploughing Championships yesterday which have had incredible success. We do not need to put barriers in their way.

Not every area is affected by this but everyone in the country is important no matter where they live, north, south, east or west. If one goes around the country there is no need to have a consultation period because it is there to be seen, problems of between 400 m and 800 m. If one is a kilometre away there is no problem with the 10:1 ratio if it is 100 m high. It is achievable if we want to go down that road. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider and support this Bill. Everyone can have their say on Committee Stage. We need to put people first and end the nightmare some people are having in certain parts of the country because something has been foisted upon them.

The Minister of State spoke about the councils but they have no say. He said if they are not in compliance with the Department's guidelines they cannot make a decision. Their hands are tied. It is up to the main parties and the rest of the Dáil to decide the distance back and I hope they go with Deputy Stanley's proposal.

I agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan that this is an area where things keep changing. It is full of uncertainties. I commend Deputy Stanley on his Bill and I understand that his motives are right and while there are many elements of it that I support, I cannot support the Bill. I will explain in detail the reason.

The one thing that is fixed is the physical atmosphere we operate in and the absolute certainty around climate science that it presents a real threat to all our people and we must respond to it. In my reading of the Paris climate agreement and all the analysis of the scientific recommendations, if a country such as Ireland is to take this seriously we have to have a 100% decarbonised energy system in the next three decades or so. I would even go more quickly but we are aiming for 2050. That is what we signed up to. It is not spelt out that this is Ireland's obligation. It is not coming from the EU but from an agreement we were party to and rightly so. Is there an understanding that we have agreed to do this? It is an incredible goal to try to achieve, to remove fossil fuels from transport, heating and power generation. That is what we have to do. The scale of the transformation is huge.

I would set us on course to do it both because it is the right thing to do for the future of our people and because it sets us up for a new economy from which this country will benefit. A brilliant Irishwoman, Marie Donnelly, who is head of the European Commission's renewables section, spoke recently here in the Oireachtas audiovisual centre. She made the simple point of asking why would Ireland, the country that missed out on the first industrial revolution, look to miss out on this new industrial revolution. That is what it is. Renewables are winning. It is game over. They are winning in China and in America, no matter what Donald Trump says. They are now the mainstay of new electricity generation. In Europe last year I think approximately 85% of all new power generation was renewable. The same is true of electric vehicles and the development of efficiency technologies. That is where all the economic development and opportunities are going. For us to opt out would be to miss an incredible economic opportunity.

I do not believe we can do oil, coal or gas. There is no working technology for storage of carbon. Some of the modelling from UCC and others, Irish energy associations and so on talk about storing carbon but there is no working or economic model for that. We have to stop burning fossil fuels quickly. I heard Deputy Stanley say that Bord na Móna had launched its "naturally driven" campaign at the National Ploughing Championships a couple of days ago. Nothing Bord na Móna is doing at present deserves to be called "naturally driven". It cannot go out and buy up hardwood wild natural forests in Georgia, slash them, bring the wood over here and call it "naturally" anything. It is a completely unsustainable model. I have changed my view on that. Ten years ago I might have thought maybe we could do something with biomass but we found out that the land use issue in that regard means we cannot do that. We cannot go out and hold our head up high by chopping down other countries' forests and shipping them over here. Two thirds of the energy goes as waste heat up a chimney. That is not a viable solution. Bord na Móna is looking for the Government to invest some of the national strategic investment fund in it. If the Government invests in that I am sorry to say our credentials would be shot. They are already in sufficient difficulty internationally. We cannot go down that route.

I would love to see us take up ocean energy but that is a 20:1 bet and a 20:1 time horizon at best. There is no working wave device, even among the best tidal power companies in the world. We do not have a big tidal resource. I would love to think, as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan does, that hydro energy is available to us but we have used up most of the big resources there. Even with hydro energy there are environmental problems. That is not somewhere we can turn.

We can turn to a mixture of wind and solar development, particularly offshore wind, and interconnection. This new electricity system will work by an incredible complex balancing system, which the EU is getting ready to legislate for at the moment. This will be done on a regional basis, not just us with the United Kingdom, but with the UK and France and Denmark and Belgium and Norway in a north-west European grid which balances the variable supply and demand. Interconnection is key. We cannot cut ourselves off as an island and think we could be energy efficient. Deputy Stanley should note that were we to do that, it would make us incredibly expensive because there has to be an expensive back-up system. The better, cheaper back-up system is for us to connect with our neighbours and be part of this new evolving system. That is the primary reason why I cannot support the Bill. Section 2 states we must be energy self-sufficient first but that is not the clever way to go. We have enough difficulties without the North-South interconnector and cutting ourselves off from the North and the problem with Brexit. We cannot think we can double down on that and cut ourselves off. I have considered this in real detail and it is not the correct economic approach. That is my main concern in respect of this Bill.

I listened to the Deputies who reflected concerns outside here and we do have to be absolutely attentive to the concerns of communities in regard to the development of wind power. There are many complicated questions around that. We have learnt in recent years that small scale wind turbines do not work. We thought some years ago that micro turbines would work but there is no evidence for that yet. Maybe somebody will develop new technology for them but they are not economic. Do we want a large number of small turbines or a small number of large ones?

Where we should go next is a massive offshore campaign. What has happened to offshore wind in the past two or three years is dramatic. Three years ago the price of offshore wind would have been around 15 cent per kW/h. Because of a new bidding system adopted by the Dutch, the Danes and even the British, the price of offshore wind this year is down to 6 cent per kW/h. It is cheaper than any other potential supply. Some people suggest nuclear energy but that is two or three times that price and we do not want these massive power stations. We need to move towards flexible, variable supplies. We should go towards offshore wind and massively towards solar energy, particularly solar panels on roofs so that we get it in the ownership of people, not necessarily of the big corporations. We have to make a conscious significant switch towards it being owned locally and I agree with those who spoke earlier about that. The Government should be proactive in that.

On using semi-State companies, during the Green Party's time in government we had a massive programme of expansion of Bord Gais as well as ESB, Coilte and Bord na Móna into renewables. Some outside said we should not have four State companies doing it. To my mind, the more the better and the more State ownership the better. I regret that policy was stopped when Bord Gais energy assets were sold off. We could return to that.

We need to go to energy co-operatives not only in the 20% provision, which I welcome although one could look at a higher figure of 30%, but we ought actively to support energy co-operatives that are supply companies as well as generation companies, such as Ecopower in the Flemish part of Belgium, which is doing a balancing act between variable supply and variable demand. There could be co-operatives where people who live close to power stations would get their electricity at very cheap prices to run electric vehicles, so one would run one's car off the local turbine and get cheap prices for the heat pump system that we can use to electrify our heating systems. We should have the sort of emphasis which the Tipperary Energy Agency has in supporting not only the generation of ownership but also the retrofitting of houses, the electrification of transport and heat, the consumer being involved in owning part of the generation but also benefitting from all the new sophisticated energy supply and demand management mechanisms, which we should look at so they are the best they can be.

Yes, we need to stop flicker. That can be done by stopping the turbines when the sun is at a certain height. We need to be conscious of noise issues and setback issues. If we are not going to do that with wind and solar interconnection, how are we going to power our country in a way that is carbon neutral, that is responsible and sees us at the forefront of the industrial revolution taking place rather than holding back?

To echo some remarks made earlier, we have had 16 of the 17 warmest years on record since 2000 and we routinely break records on drought, rainfall and so on. While this global crisis happens, despite the increase in renewable energy, more carbon dioxide is being emitted. It is terrifying when climate scientists suggest that the earth's ability to absorb carbon in its natural sinks is getting less and less. We have passed the 1°Celsius increase in average global temperatures, we are well on our way to an increase of 1.5°Celsius. If we burn the proved reserves of fossil fuels that global corporations have in reserve of coal, oil and gas, we will push global temperatures to 5°Celsius, 6°Celsius or 7°Celsius over pre-industrial levels. This will be a historic moment of extinction on the planet. We are well on the road to that today.

I welcome this Bill. Any measure that pushes this state into taking seriously the question of renewable energy has to be welcomed. It is unfortunate that Deputy Eamon Ryan will oppose the Bill when there is always the possibility of amending it by allowing it to go through to Committee Stage.

I was shocked when a few days after the summer recess began, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, announced that he had issued exploration licences for the Porcupine Basin, a huge area off the south-west coast which has much greater reserves of gas and oil than are present in Corrib. In recent days, Ervia, the mother company which looks after Irish Water and the distribution of gas, released a report which indicated that Ireland's gas reserves are very healthy and have probably never been healthier. The Minister whose remit covers the environment and climate change seems to think that it is okay to issue exploration licences for what is potentially the extraction of a huge amount of gas and oil from the Porcupine Basin in coming years when all the advice from scientists across the globe is that it should be left in the earth. We have huge reserves of carbon and fossil fuel. Our problem is the more of it we burn, the more we threaten the environment and the planet. Like others in this House, I take great interest in renewable energy and the role which solar and wind energy can play. I find it difficult to understand why we are failing to unveil or roll out projects that would be popular in this country to deliver carbon neutral energy.

I agree with other speakers that this would be a no-brainer and a win-win for Ireland's industrial prospects. Let us compare ourselves with Germany, for example. In Germany the minimum distance allowed for a wind turbine from any home is twice what we allow, at 1,000 m. In other countries across Europe, particularly in northern Europe, there has been huge investment in offshore wind turbines. The distances they allow for are considerably beyond what we allow for here from the shore, for the shore's protection. They allow for 22 km or 12 nautical miles from the shore. We do not allow anything near that.

One explanation for why there is always such opposition to windmills and wind power in this country is not that the people of the midlands or north Meath are so parochial and NIMBYist that they do not want to see renewables, but they are worried about their regulation and how they are introduced. There is no democratic debate with local communities and no buy-in for local communities because most, if not all, of these projects are owned, run and have vested interests invested in them by global corporations. The reliance on the market means that these companies will profit hugely from wind turbines. Local people are not thick. They recognise that and so there is no buy-in for their lives being hugely discommoded and their environment affected.

I want to see the regulations proposed in the Sinn Féin Bill being discussed and examined seriously by the Government as they have the potential to offset concerns among local people. The investment in offshore wind must be looked at in a serious way. That means massive State investment to end our dependence on fossil fuels. It also means employing high standards in how we do this or else we will meet with increasing opposition from people. We must recognise that it should not be all about generating profit for multinationals. There must be a greater role for the local population in developing an alternative to fossil fuel.

We support this Bill for wind energy and understand the importance of providing energy for this country. Deputy Ryan said he disagrees with section 2 of the Bill which states:

the Minister shall, in determining whether such product is excess product, have regard to whether the product generated from wind turbines and other forms of renewable resources is of an amount that is greater than the amount of energy needed for the island of Ireland to be deemed self-sufficient in the generation and consumption of electrical power...

However, it is possible to amend this Bill to ensure that the energy generated is shared with our neighbours and the wider EU.

We support this Bill and more generally we will adopt more guidelines that work in other countries. We do so supporting the idea of massive investment in renewables, led by communities and supported by the State and not left to the vagaries of the market and those who seek to maximise their profits but with the interests of the environment and the future of the planet and its people at its heart.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and I thank Deputy Stanley for tabling it. It is great to have an opportunity to discuss renewable energy in the Dáil in the first week since we returned from our summer recess. While the Fianna Fáil Party is opposed to certain elements of the Bill, it has some very positive elements. It is regrettable that once again it is left to the Opposition parties to raise one of the major issues facing our people and this country. The reason there is such anxiety, worry and fear in communities about renewable energy, in particular wind energy, is due to the manner in which the Government and the previous Government handled the debate.

A year into the previous Dáil term, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the then Government and the UK Government which would have enabled large-scale industrial wind farms to be erected in the midlands, with all the energy being exported to the UK. There was no local buy-in or local consultation. At the time, the then Government wanted to power ahead with this proposal, so much so the people in the midlands were only saved from the industrial wind farm by virtue of the fact the UK Government pulled out of the agreement.

For more than six years, since Pat Rabbitte was the Minister, we have listened to Ministers stating the publication of new wind energy guidelines would be done without much further delay and that they were only a matter of months away. Those months have turned into years. Despite the fact the previous Government carried out a wide-ranging consultation process, nothing has happened since.

In the previous Government, the Ministers, Deputy Kelly and Alex White, could not come to terms or agree on the best way forward. In this Government there also appears to be a difference of opinion between Ministers on the best way forward. This is something that needs to be addressed. My party published its own wind energy guidelines more than four years ago, and it is regrettable the Government has not progressed this further at this stage.

Only today, I met a representative of the motor industry who spoke about the need to try to encourage people away from the use of diesel cars to hybrid cars. In the case of one particular brand, 4% of new passenger vehicles sold in 2015 were hybrid. In 2016, this had increased to 12% of passenger vehicles sold, and if we look thus far in 2017, 28% of all new passenger vehicles sold are hybrid. The general population realises fossil fuels are not never-ending and we need to look to a new way of ensuring we have sustainable energy to power our homes, businesses and cars. However, the Government is not responding.

A number of years ago, I went with my party leader to Denmark, which is possibly a world leader in how it has embraced renewable energy, particularly in how it has embraced wind energy. It took its lead in the 1970s when there was an oil crisis. At that stage it stated it would not be dependent on a resource over which it had no control. It started to diversify away from fossil fuels to wind energy. Now, more than 30% of its overall energy is from wind. A large proportion of this is wind on land. In latter years it has moved to offshore wind energy. As someone who was very much a vocal opponent of wind energy a number of years ago, I visited a number of wind farms, and they can work in the right locations. With the advance of technology, we can address the issues of noise and shadow flicker and the concerns of the people. However, the only way they can be addressed is to consult people, listen to their concerns and show them where international best practice works.

Unfortunately, there are people in our country who will say they want wind turbines but not in their own location. This is a fact. There are also people who will use and exploit people's fears for their own political gain. This is a fact. As national politicians and legislators who want to ensure we can make a lasting difference on the future, we need to ensure people are informed of the facts and that we have proper legislation and proper guidelines in place to ensure people's lives are not severely and negatively impacted. The Government has failed to do this.

There is plenty in the Bill that is very positive but there are elements of the Bill about which we have concerns. One of these elements is that the Bill states all locations for proposed wind turbines must be designated in county development plans and be consistent with the plan. This is all very well in certain parts of a county. I do not know what part of Laois Deputy Stanley lives in, but where I live in Westmeath is two miles from the Longford border. There are people who live much closer to various county borders. A plan adopted in one county might not necessarily be the same plan adopted in the county beside it. It might be at total variance to that of the county beside it. A person living near a county border might be more adversely affected by the plan adopted in the county across the border than the plan of the person's own county. It is important we have a national policy on this. Each county should not work in a silo or in isolation. We need a national policy, which is why I urge the Government to be upfront and straight, tell the people what it is doing and listen to the suggestions that have been made.

Something that made a huge difference to engaging with officials in Denmark, where we visited a number of years ago, was that people had local buy-in. The reason they had local buy-in was they had a tangible benefit from the renewable energy. I am not speaking about a multinational company coming in and giving €10,000 to sponsor sports jerseys. While this would be very welcome by a local GAA club and it would do good work in the community, what was done in Denmark was a co-operative style system was put in place and the local people benefited from cheaper electricity. This is not what was proposed originally by the previous Government, which was to export the energy across the water, with no tangible benefits for the people who would have to see the turbines being erected on their land.

We need to set a required distance from any residence.

We need strict noise controls and to restrict shadow flicker but I believe wind farms have a role play in the right locations, including inland. More important, we should be considering the role of offshore wind energy generation.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss further this important issue. I acknowledge the contributions of Deputies on the Bill, as proposed by Deputy Stanley. This issue generates much interest and debate among all relevant stakeholders, interest groups and the wider community. It is certainly worthy of discussion here. That is why we are to have consultation over the coming months.

Deputy Stanley is correct that it will take about six months to go through the whole process. The initial phase will involve the strategic environmental assessment, SES. That will start tomorrow. We will get it moving then. The process is now under way. It is important that we have it and that we discuss the draft guidelines.

While I note the merits of some provisions of the Bill, as mentioned, the Government has already committed to addressing most of the issues raised in the Bill as part of the ongoing review of the 2006 wind energy guidelines. We believe this is the appropriate approach. I recognise the Deputy’s Bill was produced in good faith but that is our view. Statutory planning guidelines are the most appropriate way to deal with these issues rather than primary legislation, as proposed. In this regard, ministerial planning guidelines issued under section 28 of the planning Act provide sufficient flexibility in the application of the advisory nature of the guidelines at local level while also ensuring consistency of approach, having regard to relevant national Government policy, particularly energy policy. In the proposed revisions of the guidelines, as contained in a preferred draft approach published in June of this year, the Government aims to strike an appropriate balance between addressing the concerns of local communities regarding wind farms, with which concerns I am very familiar as I represent areas that are greatly affected and in respect of which I have had ongoing discussions, and the need to invest in indigenous renewable energy projects for the purpose of enhancing our economic and environmental sustainability while also assisting in the achievement of our EU climate and energy targets. People want to achieve the targets because they represent the right thing to do. Deputy Eamon Ryan addressed this. Irish people believe in this but it is a question of how we manage and balance our energy development and do what is right in the right places. That is what the guidelines will attempt to achieve.

A particular focus of the preferred draft approach is to underpin the principle of early and active engagement by developers of wind farms with local communities, combined with the provision of community benefit measures in locations where wind farms are proposed. Even when I was a counsellor, I always encouraged engagement with the community from day one with regard to any proposal or development. One should get the balance right, obtain support and try to bring the community with one when one can. It is possible in most cases because most people are reasonable. There are fears, however, so there is a duty to do all that can be done to allay those fears.

The development of projects is carried out quite well in other countries. We have done it well ourselves in many cases but it is a question of enhancement and streamlining our approach to ensure communities gain and do not suffer. That is the most important part.

The preferred draft approach also proposes stringent noise controls consistent with WHO standards, the establishment of a robust noise-monitoring regime for wind farms, the elimination of shadow flicker through inbuilt automated control mechanisms on wind farms, and the introduction of revised setback distances from residential dwellings to protect visual amenity. These are all possible because of technology changes. What people would have called for years ago is now possible. There is no reason to be having this debate on shadow flicker. We can deal with it and put it to bed. That is what we should do.

All these proposals will be subject to a strategic environmental assessment, as required by EU legislation, including a public consultation process, before they are finalised. That process will be kicked off tomorrow. I hope we will be at the implementation stage in November after the tenders are dealt with in the month of October. All the provisions in the Deputy's Bill are being addressed as part of other policy initiatives, such as the renewable electricity policy and development framework, being developed by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and his Department. It will incorporate policy in line with EU requirements in regard to potential future energy exports, thereby setting updated national policy in this regard. Also to be considered is the renewable electricity supply scheme, RESS, which is to be finalised in the coming months. It is aimed at fostering and strengthening concepts of community participation and ownership in renewable electricity projects while further supporting the community benefit concept, as proposed in a preferred draft approach.

There is a further aspect of Deputy Stanley’s Bill that I would like to address but which I omitted in my intervention earlier this evening. It relates to section 7, pertaining to transitional provisions that would require existing wind turbines already operating and well established in local communities to comply with the ten-times turbine height setback distance proposals in section 6 within a 12-month period after the enactment of the Bill. These provisions would entail existing wind turbines either having to be reduced in height in their current locations or moved to other locations in order to comply with the setback requirement. The proposal in the Bill in regard to existing wind turbines is not feasible from either a legal or practical perspective. I acknowledge the Deputy's intentions but there are State obligations to be adhered to. We must be careful that we manage these.

As I have outlined, many of the provisions of the Bill have already been addressed in the context of the ongoing review of the 2006 guidelines and in policy initiatives being progressed by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and its Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten. I accept that this has dragged on for a long number of years. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan referred to her time in my Department. This has been going on too long. The agreement reached in June of this year with the two Departments and two Ministers on the preferred approach is a welcome step and an important milestone. Tomorrow will comprise a part of that, in addition to what will occur in the months ahead. It is time to end this conversation, make decisions and offer people some certainty with regard to plans and proposals. It is important that we do so.

I am confident that the review of the guidelines and the other Government policy initiatives mentioned will collectively provide for a clearer, balanced and more robust system of appropriate controls for wind energy development. Accordingly, I wish to confirm that the Government is opposed to the Bill at this stage because of the proposals we are involved with. I hope that is understood by most people.

I listened carefully to the replies. Many of the issues were raised in the debate. Populism was mentioned. We should be very clear that my party regards wind energy as part of the solution. We do not have a method of storing it. What we are doing here is setting out a set of practical proposals. I have read the Fianna Fáil proposals. In fairness, that party set out criteria for setback distances. We disagree with it and believe we should go a bit further. It is not a populist position. I explained earlier the amount of land available with even a 2 km setback distance, based on research from National University of Ireland, Maynooth. It is substantial. There are thousands of square kilometres available with a 2 km setback distance. With a 1 km or 1.25 km setback distance, which is what we are talking about, it multiplies several times. Let us blow away the land use argument once and for all. This is not about populism.

On populism, I do not wish to have a go at either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael but I do want to point out to the Minister of State and Deputy Dooley-----

I did not mention the word "populism".

In County Laois, the councillors of both parties voted to have no wind farms anywhere in the county. They left Laois County Council open to challenge by wind farm developers. Guess what: two wind farm developers are now preparing legal action against the council on foot of the action of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors. At the meeting on the local property tax over a week ago, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors proposed to add an extra €120,000 to the local property tax bill, the household charge, not for roads, footpaths, public lighting or libraries, on which Mr. Phil Hogan told me the money would be spent, but to pay the legal bill as a consequence of their actions. The two Sinn Féin councillors believed we should zone a small number of areas in the county for wind farms. They pointed out what was going to happen in terms of leaving the local authority open to challenge. The Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors said they will let the Minister do the heavy lifting and that he can be blamed. The parties need to stop talking from both sides of their mouths.

I did not mention the word "populism". I purposely avoided picking on the Deputy or mentioning populist decisions. If he wants me to go there, I will do that.

Fianna Fáil did.

The Deputy should please stop wagging his finger at me. I did not mention the word. If the Deputy wants me to go there, I will, on many issues.

Lest there be any doubt, I did not level an accusation of populism directly at Deputy Brian Stanley.

It is something that emerges through the political sphere. I just talked about a desire not to go there.

Could I continue without interruption?

The fact is that we have to use wind as part of the solution. I am merely pointing out that the Government needs to line up a position. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael cannot have one position at local level and a different position at national level. I circulated our position five years ago throughout our party, and we try to get a joined-up approach at local level.

I welcome the proposals from Fianna Fáil. We believe it should go further. We have produced research to show that there is sufficient land with a 1 km or 1.25 km setback in order to provide substantial wind farm developments.

We are not saying our Bill is 100% perfect. This is Second Stage of legislation into which we put a lot of effort, research and work, and it was legally proofed. We are not pretending we have all the answers and I would never be so arrogant as to say that. We spoke to environmental groups and people working in the industry, and we believe it is a good starting point. The House should allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage where amendments can be put forward. This is our opening shot, and I say that in a very constructive way.

I welcome that the Minister of State said the tendering process for the SEA is commencing tomorrow. That is good news. I do not know what triggered that for tomorrow. Perhaps it is a coincidence, given that we are debating this Bill today. I welcome it. We need to move on. Deputy O'Sullivan, who is a former Minister, said we started the process in 2013. I remember it. Commissioner Phil Hogan was here at the time. We are in 2017, with only a few months left to 2018, so let us move on. Wind farm developers are building in the meantime.

The Green Party put forward a case against the Bill, and I accept it is genuine in what it believes. It left out many other sources of energy, such as anaerobic digestion and hydropower. I know hydropower has its limitations. Deputy Ryan did not mention other sources of energy. We agree that, based on our information from the industry, offshore energy is getting cheaper and we should drive on that process with gusto.

We on this planet have not as yet sussed out a way of storing wind, which is a major problem. The greatest demand for energy is during periods such as the big freeze we had a number of years ago. There was significant demand on the grid, but there was no way of storing wind energy. The nights and days were calm and there was no wind, but there was heavy frost.

Many parties, including those in government, have referred to ownership. The Minister of State said it should be encouraged. We are saying that it can be offered, or it could be mandatory. If people wanted to take it up, they could do so. There is a fair amount of agreement on this area.

We had a discussion on setback distances. The Minister of State said research is being done on offshore energy, which needs to be accelerated. There is chaos in the wind farm industry, and we need to bring some order to it. The Bill proposes to put in place a planning and regulatory system to make sure we have orderly development and do not make the same mistakes as we have in other industries. We cannot just plough ahead.

I refer to the SEA process. It is good that tenders are proceeding.

The 4 km setback provision is not adequate, and I say that sincerely. We have shown that a lot of land is available. Our proposal is for 10 km and Fianna Fáil proposed a 6 km limit. We need to have a discussion.

Deputy Troy mentioned the community dividend. It is not good enough to allow major wind farm developers to sponsor a set of charities or local clubs. That is tokenism and is simply buying off communities. It is not real community participation. I referred to Templederry, with which I am sure the Minister is familiar. I am sure he will agree it is a shining example of community buy-in and ownership. We want real community participation.

I refer to climate action and what happened in Inishowen. I was in the area during a weekend and returned on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the heavens opened. I have been told that there has never been such serious flooding on the Inishowen peninsula. We have seen the damage done along the Shannon, something with which Deputy Dooley will be familiar given that he lives in a county which is on the banks of the Shannon, County Clare. There was significant flooding in the area. The same happened in County Roscommon, which is Deputy Fitzmaurice's county. There have been significant problems in my area of Laois-Offaly.

We have to deal with climate change. We have international obligations which Sinn Féin takes very seriously. I plead with the Minister of State and the Government to move on in terms of developing renewable sources of energy. I mentioned anaerobic digestion. It would be an opportunity to solve a problem in the agricultural sector and create jobs and wealth. It would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

We all need to understand that the future will involve multiple sources of electricity supply. Wind, with a big bang, is not going to do it. We can no longer rely on oil, something other countries have copped on to, and we have to bring into play very quickly a suite of options, including solar energy. It is an area on which we are very slow to pick up. We must move ahead with solar power and connect panels to the grid. We must start putting them on top of new schools and large cattle sheds which are being built. Some cattle sheds cover an acre with south facing sloped roofs. All of them should have solar panels. Let us move ahead and agree on that point.

I hope the Minister of State will have a change of heart and let the Bill go to Committee Stage where we can have a debate and discuss amendments to improve it.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 28 September 2017.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 September 2017.