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Wind Energy Guidelines

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 5 May 2021

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Ceisteanna (39)

Darren O'Rourke


39. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the timeframe for the publication of the revised wind energy development guidelines; the reason for the significant delay in publishing same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13265/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Housing)

What is the timeframe for the publication of the revised wind energy development guidelines, what is the reason for the significant delay in their publication and will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? The 2006 guidelines have been under review for a considerable period.

I thank the Deputy for his question. My Department is focused on a review of the 2006 wind energy development guidelines. The review is addressing a number of key aspects, including sound or noise, visual amenity setback distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections.

Almost 500 submissions were received in response to a public consultation undertaken as part of a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, of the draft guidelines, many of which were very detailed and technical in nature. My Department and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications have analysed the submissions received in conjunction with the contracted SEA and noise consultants, and are in the process of preparing finalised guidelines, having undertaken a detailed consideration and analysis of all the submissions received.

Prior to the conclusion of the SEA process, a number of changes are being made to the noise sections of the guidelines. This work is being led by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and is being completed in conjunction with its external noise consultant and my Department. Work is ongoing in respect of the outstanding issues and is being advanced by our Department. In conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, we are endeavouring to finalise and publish the revised guidelines as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am interested in knowing what he understands "as quickly as possible" to mean. He will appreciate that there is considerable interest in these guidelines and many people are waiting on them. Over recent weeks, the Joint Committee on Climate Action heard from the planning regulator, who said that the guidelines were needed urgently, and Wind Energy Ireland, which is eager to see them. The Minister of State will know from Longford and Westmeath that many local authorities have been dealing with applications for years. The planning regulator raised this as an issue. We need to see the new guidelines because the technology has moved on so significantly that the current guidelines are outdated, creating a planning vacuum that is ripe for confrontation between communities and developers.

As the Deputy articulated, significant changes have occurred in recent years. Working in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, our Department has been trying to arrive at a response that is fair to communities. We are clear on the need for communities to have protection, but we must ensure a balance so that we also meet our renewable energy targets. The work is still ongoing, but it is very technical. The changes in respect of the noise issue comprise the last major piece of the jigsaw that we are trying to connect. External consultants are giving advice to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in that regard. I hope that we will arrive at a finalised document later this year.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Stanley, who introduced the Wind Turbine Regulation Bills 2016 and 2020. The latter is on the Order Paper and might provide a helpful template for the Departments.

In the planning regulator's contribution to the Joint Committee on Climate Action, he raised the possibility of developing a renewable energy roadmap with county-specific targets. From my experience as a county councillor in Meath, I know of the discussions that happened over the border in Westmeath about the possibility of ruling out renewable energy for large swathes of the county. In terms of county-specific targets, is designating areas for renewable energy an option?

It is clear in the first instance that, through the climate action plan and the national planning framework, counties should provide clarity in terms of where they will achieve their targets in order to meet our national climate action obligations. Those targets can be achieved through a large number of renewable energy options, for example, biomass, solar farms and wind energy. It is up to counties to be specific. The Office of the Planning Regulator is an independent office. The planning regulator's job is to examine national plans - the climate action plan and the national planning framework - and regional strategies and determine whether there is a shared vision running through them right down to the county development plans.

The new regulations, when they are updated, will provide our councillors and citizens with protection and enhanced guidelines on how we can achieve our renewable energy targets in a safe way that respects the will of our communities.