Guidelines for wind energy installations are not due to be published for several months and will not come into effect at least until the end of the year, according to Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney.
Coveney said he is working with Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Dennis Naughten on a draft document which will finally replace the current guidelines. These date from 2006 and recommend a 500m set-back distance for turbines from residences.
Since then turbines have almost doubled in height and campaigners have amassed evidence of health impacts for householders as a result of noise and light flicker. They hope the new guidelines will bring clarity to Ireland's under-regulated wind sector.
Meanwhile it seems safe to say that mistakes are being made regarding the siting of wind farms. In what could be a sign of things to come, seven families have heard an admission of liability by defendants in their case against Enercon Wind Farm Services Ireland Ltd and Carrigcannon Wind Farm Ltd.
The families, from Banteer in north County Cork, said they were forced to leave their homes due to noise pollution from a nearby wind farm. One of the families in question lived 1km from the nearest turbine, twice the recommended set-back distance of 2006. Their case is due back in the High Court this week.
Campaigners against the widespread construction of wind farms have been critical of generous grant aid, afforded developers of medium to large wind installations under the Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff (Refit) III. Deadline extensions for Refit III were announced in January. These included construction/energisation deadlines which were extended to December 31 2019; the take-off deadline is now March 2020 and the deadline for planning permission and grid connection is now December 31 2017. No new applications are being accepted under Refit.
The original Refit scheme encouraged small-scale electricity generation and household grid-feeds, incentives for which have been dropped. Its redesign was intended to ramp up the contribution of renewables to Ireland's overall electricity generation. But by attracting large investors the incentive has encouraged profit-driven developments with little or no consideration for local inhabitants.
As a result many wind developments are attracting accusations of planning irregularities. Project splitting and multiple applications for the same site confuse and exhaust objectors, two commonly-used ploys. Then there are cases in which clearly unsuitable sites have received planning permission from local authorities, who then turn a blind eye when regulations are flouted.
The courts have become very busy with injunctions taken by residents' groups. These cases cost hundreds of thousands to take, but they usually only delay projects and rarely succeed in stopping them. Even when a case is won, the developer simply re-applies for planning, forcing residents to start again. Meanwhile it seems developers can get their grant-aid deadlines extended so these delays are no financial strain on them.
All of this has fuelled speculation that powerful lobbies influenced the process which led to wind farms being prioritised over the best interests of rural communities, and Ireland's climate policy as a whole. There are even doubts about the ability of wind energy to deliver on its promise of supplying a substantial portion of Ireland's energy needs.
It is well-known that on some days the wind does not blow, while electricity storage facilties for windy days do not exist. Given the success of the Banteer residents mentioned above, future compensation schemes for local residents affected by poorly sited wind installations are likely. Such cases also seem likely to result in restrictions on when turbines are allowed to operate, further reducing their output. The folly of investing so much hope in on-shore wind farms becomes apparent.
As Paula Byrne of Wind Aware has said, “If a [Cost Benefit Analysis] had been undertaken, it [is] most likely that converting Moneypoint to sustainable biomass or clean gas would have emerged as a better option than wind, saving billions of euros, with better environmental outcomes. Likewise, upgrading our present stock of badly insulated homes may have been identified as another viable option. A Green minister and a powerful lobby group meant that no CBA was carried out and none of these options properly explored before industrial wind was rolled out.”
There are companies who say they can deliver 40% of Ireland's electricity needs via off-shore wind facilities. They must be worth a punt over the current initiatives we are foolishly supporting. At least if they are wrong these installations won't have done grievous harm to community relations. On-shore wind farms certainly do not bring harmony or social cohesion, at least not when imposed by cloak and dagger developers.