Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006
The original Wind Energy Development Guidelines were established by the Department for the Environment, Community & Local Government in 2006.
In December 2013 the Department issued proposed revisions to these guidelines, aimed at specifically addressing issues regarding noise, proximity & shadow flicker.
A key input into the review was a study completed by Marshall Day Acoustics.
The Marshall Day report was commissioned by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, an organisation which includes on its Executive board members of wind energy development companies.
Public submissions were invited on the proposed changes. The closing date for submissions was 21st February 2014. Over 7000 submissions were received. Many of these submissions, as published on the Department’s website (www.environ.ie), took issue with the Department’s statement that “concerns of possible health impacts in respect of wind energy infrastructure are not a matter which fall within the remit of these Guidelines” (Proposed Revisions to Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006, Dec 11th 2013, p.3).
The Department stated that submissions on other aspects of the existing guidelines would not be considered in this process. It also stated that as the Marshall Day Report is an independent study, the Department is not in a position to comment on its contents, and furthermore that it is considered a final study and submissions are not being sought on its contents. However the proposed changes appear to be based solely on the findings in this study.
Whilst acknowledging the existence of variables affecting the impact of noise on neighbouring properties, e.g. topography, ground cover types, wind speed & direction, the proposed changes introduce an absolute minimum mandatory setback of turbines from houses of 500m, but with exceptions which allow lower setbacks. There is no provision for setback to be increased depending on the effects of these variables. The proposed changes state that “a direct correlation between separation distance and wind turbine generated sound levels is not clear”
and that “because of the lack of correlation between separation distance and wind turbine sound levels, the use of a defined setback of turbines from noise sensitive properties to control noise impacts is not considered appropriate”. This approach is in conflict with the requirements of the EIA Directive, which as the EU Court of Justice confirmed in Case C-420/11, EU Jutta Leth v Republik Österreich
“the prevention of pecuniary damage, in so far as that damage is the direct economic consequence of the environmental effects of a public or private project, is covered by the objective of protection pursued by Directive 85/337”.
When considering setback, the Draft WEDG also fails to consider or assess the relationship between proximity to wind energy developments and diminution of residential amenity and property values.
The draft WEDG also ignores the findings of the Marshall Day Report that setbacks:
“may be required for other reasons, such as occupational health and safety buffer zones” (p.61).
When the 2006 Guidelines were published, recommending a setback distance of 500m, wind turbine heights were on average 54m tall. The turbines proposed for the Renewable Energy Export Project are 3.5 times as high, some 185m tall.
The proposed changes prescribe an absolute noise limit of 40dA outside a dwelling, and purport thatnoise levels insidea dwelling would normally be approximately 10dBA or more. The Chief Acoustician to the British Government, Dick Bowdler, notes in his submission to the current WEDG submission phase that this proposed limit is actually significantly higher than most other jurisdictions, contrary to the statement
in the draft WEDG (p.7) that this proposed limit is “in the lower end of the range of limits applied internationally”. Furthermore, these absolute values take no account that existing noise levels in rural areas may be much lower, and allowing an increase to 40dBA could result in a significant increase in noise levels. Given the growing body of evidence in relation to the adverse health impacts of wind turbine noise, the lack of any evidence-based approach in the draft WEDG to the setting or assessment of wind turbine noise limits is of concern.
Shadow flicker is addressed only in relation to neighbouring properties. No mention is made of controlling shadow flicker which will affect driving conditions on roads, livestock, wildlife and amenity users.
Public Consultations to Wind Energy Development, 2006 View
Marshall Day Acoustics. 2013. Examination of the significance of noise in relation to onshore wind farms.View
Case C-420/11, EU Jutta Leth v Republik Österreich: View.
The Environment does not belong to the State. It belongs to the people. While governments and developers come and go, the general public are left with the environment around them.
To this end, citizens have been granted robust procedural rights when it comes to environmental matters. Pre-eminent amongst these rights conferred on citizens and enshrined in law is the right to public participation in the decision-making process on all environmental matters.
Public participation is essential in decision making on all environmental issues and is an integral part of the process in our efforts to move towards an economic, environmental and socially sustainable world. Recognising this, the United Nations’ Rio Declaration  (1992) stated in Principle 10:
Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.
In other words, the public has to be given robust procedural rights in relation to “Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters”. This is what formed the title of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Aarhus Convention, which drafted Principle 10 into a formal legal structure and applied it to the UNECE region of Europe and Central Asia.
The subject of the Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement; it is also a convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on parties and public authorities obligations regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice.
The UN-ECE Compliance Committee ruled against the EU in relation to the Irish NREAP 2012-20 in May 2012 on the grounds that it had been drafted without any input from the Irish Public. A separate UN-ECE ruling in relation to the British NREAP on which the Renewable Energy Export Projects planned for the midlands of Ireland are predicated, also deemed it in breach of the Aarhus Convention.
Pat Swords, a chemical engineer and lay litigant has taken a High Court case (view) which could potentially have huge implications for wind farm development in the country. Swords argues that the State has shown bias in favour of wind energy over other forms of renewable technologies and that European law has been breached by adopting plans without proper public consultation. He is seeking to have the National Renewable Energy Action Plan annulled and points to the terms of the Aarhus Convention which enshrines public participation in decision-making rather than presenting a fait accompli where there is no real input.
Whilst the Government may argue that all environmental policies are put out to public consultation, the State is also obliged under the Aarhus Convention to “take due account of the outcome of public participation”. This obligation on the State establishes “an objectively high standard to show in a particular case that public comments have been seriously considered” (Second Edition of the Aarhus Convention; An Implementation Guide, p.158). Furthermore, there is a clear obligation in both the Aarhus Convention and the Directive of Strategic Environmental Assessment to ensure that the public are informed in an adequate, timely and effective manner; The public participation procedures shall include reasonable time-frames for the different phases, allowing sufficient time
for informing the public in accordance with paragraph 2 above and for the public to prepare and participate effectively during the environmental decision-making”(Article 7, Aarhus Convention).
Unfortunately, in many instances, the public are not adequately informed of these consultation processes. For example, when Eirgrid completed the Grid 25 SEA, they failed to ensure the participation of the public, as only 22 submissions were received, of which only 3 could be attributed to the public. It was not that the public concerned did not want to participate on the Grid 25 decision-making – they were just not aware of what it was and what it was about.
United Nations Rio Declaration (1992). Principle 10. View
Aarhus Convention (1998). View
Aarhus Convention – An Implementation Guide (Second Edition) (2013). View
NREAP Ireland – National Renewable Energy Action Plan Ireland. View
NREAP UK – National Renewable Energy Action Plan for the UK. View
EU Directive 2001:42:EC. Directive of Strategic Environmental Assessment View
Renewable Energy Export Policy & Development Framework
This policy is being developed by the Department of Communications, Energy and National Resources (DCENR). It’s aim is to optimise the opportunities for export of renewable energy from Ireland to other EU member states (in the first instance to the UK) in accordance with EU law, including the EU Renewables Directive (2009/28/EC).
The policy aims to focus on large scale projects for the generation of Renewable Energy for the export market. It is important to note that this policy is only in the process of being developed, despite the renewables industry having already moved to develop projects in the Midlands which should be governed by such a policy. Indeed the Minister is on record as having said earlier in 2013 that “there is no point in getting the planning right and finding no companies left”. However recent announcements made by the Minister suggest that these projects may have been deferred (Irish Independent, 7th March 2014).
The stated intention of the framework is to –
- Set out a clear national policy context for the export of renewable energy;
- Broadly identify strategic areas in Ireland for renewable energy generation for export. (However it is clear that five midland counties have already been chosen and wind energy development companies have signed Option Agreements with landowners in these counties since the Spring of 2012).
- Provide guidance to planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, when considering any proposals for renewable energy export.
Development of the policy is to be informed by completing a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). This will be accompanied by a Habitats Directive Assessment [or Appropriate Assessment (AA)] under the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, and consultation with the public and stakeholders.
The policy process is to be covered in three stages –
Stage 1 (Q3 2013)
Public & interested parties invited to make submissions on key issues which should be dealt with in the policy. The closing date for submissions was 22/11/13 and these are now published on the DCENR website.
Preparation of SEA scoping document by DCENR.
Stage 2 (Q1, Q2 2014)
Publication of SEA scoping report.
Public Consultation to inform an environmental report for the SEA.
Preparation of policy & framework document and environmental report.
Stage 3 (Q2, Q3 2014)
Publication of draft policy, Environmental Report & Natura Impact Statement
Public consultation on the contents of above.
The difficulty with this “consultation” is that this process is fundamentally flawed on a number of levels. The first failing pertains to the fact that International law directs that both the EU’s CO2 emissions targets and the EU Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) require the carrying out of the legally binding Strategic Environmental Assessments at EU level. This process has been completely by-passed. Claims by the Department that renewable energy targets are legally binding are false, because those targets and EU directive 2009/28/EC has no legal standing, as it is in contravention of the SEA requirement. Where a member state elects to install industrial wind turbines in response to the EU targets on renewable energy, it is obliged to carry out its own Strategic Environmental Assessment applicable to its own country’s conditions. It is not legally possible to carry out an Irish SEA when none is available at EU level.
Another failing of the Irish Government’s SEA “Consultation” process is that the agency carrying out the SEA is the promoter of the development sector being assessed.
A third flaw is Ireland’s failure to honour the European Landscape Convention, in particular the protection of significant landscapes. Furthermore, a 2007 judgment by the European Court of Justice in relation to Ireland’s failure to protect wetlands and birds outside of designated areas still has not been recognised and measures need to be taken to give legal protection to all National Heritage Areas (NHA’s)
and proposed National Heritage Areas (pNHAs).
In addition, the fact that these “Consultation” processes pertain solely to the Export Framework and not to indigenous projects is also questionable. Any SEA for wind developments must include all wind projects, domestic and export. Finally, speaking in Dublin in November 2013, Pat Rabbitte T.D, and Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources highlighted the scope for Ireland to be an exporter of renewable energy of significance. “Given the scale of our wind resources, in the medium term we could be exporting wind energy on a scale that matches the total electricity consumption of the country. We use 6 to 7 Gigawatts ourselves each year and I believe we could be exporting the same quantum to the UK and beyond in the coming years.”
The purpose of public consultation is that it must be carried out before any decisions are made. This is clearly not the case here as the Minister has already clearly made up his mind.
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – Renewable Energy Export Policy and Development Framework. View.
Stage 1 Information Document & Information Document links on DCENR website. View
Directive 2009/28/EEC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC (The EU Renewables Directive) (2009). View
Eirgrid and the GRID25 plan.
Grid25 sets out the planned development of the national electricity grid up to 2025. It contains 5 strategic goals which outline how renewable energy will be incorporated into the grid while building a robust and efficient network. Eirgrid describe it as “a platform to harness Ireland’s renewable energy and….will enable Ireland to link with Great Britain with the potential to export and import electricity”
The Grid 25 Strategy was published in October 2008 and sets out the development requirements for the national electricity grid up to 2025.
The Grid 25 Implementation Plan (Eirgrid. 2012. GRID25 IP) sets out the strategy and specific projects envisaged during the five year lifetime of the plan. i.e. currently the first 5 years of the GRID 25 strategy.
It is a requirement that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) be carried out on certain plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment (EU. 2001). Energy infrastructure generally falls under this requirement as do wind farms (EU. 2011 Annex I 20. & Annex II 3)
The SEA Directive (Item 14) sets out that an environmental report should be prepared which contains, among other things “…reasonable alternatives taking into account the objectives and the geographical scope of the plan or programme”. The SEA should ensure that significant environmental effects are taken into account during the preparation of the plan / programme and before its adoption in order to anticipate and avoid potential adverse environmental impacts.
While Eirgrid did carry out an SEA of sorts (Eirgrid. 2012 Environmental Report Grid25 IP SEA), it was not published until May 2012, long after the decision was made to move to a policy where 40% of electricity was to be generated by wind-power (DCENR. 2007 3.4.6) and long after theGRID25 strategy was launched to plan the transmission system on that basis.
The SEA carried out was for the 5 year Implementation Plan only and not for the overall GRID 25 strategy.
Most alarming is the fact that no development plan or SEA was carried out for the wind-farms that this grid development is to support. Eirgrid highlight this; “there is no spatially specific National Wind/Renewable Energy Strategy, nor is there any SEA of such policy objectives” (Eirgrid. 2012. p86). This means that the requirement to examine the cumulative or combined effect of the extensive wind plans and the linked grid development could not be done. Eirgrid concur when they conclude that that it is “therefore impractical – to make any meaningful assessment of cumulative effects” (Eirgrid. 2012. p86. Indirect and Cumulative Effects).
Poor implementation presents another challenge. Section 9 of the report deals with mitigation measures. Unfortunately, these are only effective if implemented. Take for example the monitoring of human health (Eirgrid. 2012. p147. indicator HH1i). There is as of yet, no evidence that any such monitoring is in place or is intended despite the fact that the GRID25 strategy has now been in place for nearly 5 years.
This SEA was not widely publicised and very little public consultation was involved. It also considered only 3 alternatives namely; (1) – Business as usual, (2) – Grid 25 and (3) – An alternative version of Grid 25 where most development and new wind energy generation would occur primarily along the eastern and southern coast.
EU Renewables Directive (2009/28/EC)
The directive establishes a common framework for use of energy from renewable resources to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to promote cleaner transport. It also promotes energy saving and energy efficiency measures, security of energy supply, technical development & innovation and employment and regional development opportunities.
In order to achieve these ambitions and comply with the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, the Directive sets a target of 20% of EU energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, along with a target of 10% minimum of energy use in transport from renewable sources.
Individual targets are set for member states based on their starting point, potential for renewables development, existing energy mix, past efforts at renewable development etc. Ireland’s target has been set at 16%, keeping in mind that the 10% target on transport is mandatory.
Member states are required to establish a National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) setting out their plan to achieve these targets, and including the contribution from energy efficiency and energy saving measures. The Directive includes a key objective to improve energy efficiency by 20% by 2020. It is incumbent on member states to make significant improvements in energy efficiency, and in particular in the transport sector to reach this 10% target. The difficulty with all of this is that both the EU’s CO2 emissions targets and the EU Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) require the carrying out of the legally binding Strategic Environmental Assessments at EU level. This process has been completely by-passed. Claims by the Department that renewable energy targets are legally binding are therefore false, because those targets and EU directive 2009/28/EC have no legal standing, as they are in contravention of the SEA requirement. If an SEA on Ireland’s NREAP were to be carried out as is mandatory by law, it would document the environmental objectives, impacts and alternatives and then complete detailed public consultation with due account of the public participation taken in the resulting policy decision.
To date, no such assessment and quantification of costs and benefits, has been carried out.
Ireland’s NREAP goes beyond the targets set out in the Directive & sets a target of 40% of our electricity consumption by 2020 from renewable sources. The 40% target was announced by the previous
administration in a Dáil Statement by Mr. John Gormley, the then Minister for the Environment, during Budget 2009. This target of 40% considerably exceeds both EU current targets of 20% and the UK’s current target of 15%, and was also reached without the completion of any technical, economic or environmental assessments.
Energy from renewable sources is defined as energy from non-fossil sources, not only wind, but also solar, aero thermal, geothermal, hydrothermal and ocean energy, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases. EU Member States were free to choose their own mix out of the eleven renewable sources identified. However, the Irish Government has chosen to meet its 40% target primarily through investment in wind energy development. This is in striking contrast to one of the newest members of the EU, Croatia, whose NREAP shows that by 2020, wind energy is restricted to 400MW. The Croatian Economy Minister has decided to concentrate energy production from biomass, biogas, cogeneration plants and small hydroelectric power plants in order to conserve jobs, protect the beautiful Croatian landscape and to avoid the prospect of a major grid expansion. The Croatian NREAP has been rigorously financially costed. The cost of the Irish Programme has not, as yet, been quantified by the Irish authorities.
The Directive also encourages cooperation between states in production & transmission of energy.
EU.2009. EUDirective 2009/28/EC. View.
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural resources.2010.National Renewable Energy Action Plan. View.
United Nations. 2001. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. View,