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Government faces sparking rural backlash over plan to relax wind turbine rules logo 07/02/2023 Philip Ryan

A major review of the rules governing the construction of wind turbines is likely to result in more relaxed regulations and spark a backlash among rural communities.

The overhaul of existing guidelines for controversial onshore turbines will take into account the Government’s new climate action targets.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien are to bring a memo to Cabinet seeking clearance for the review.

They want to start a cross departmental review of draft guidelines announced four years ago but never enacted.

The existing rules for the construction of wind turbines date back to 2006 and, despite attempts by various ministers to introduce new rules taking onboard community concerns, they have never been formally updated.

Ireland is currently the third most difficult country in which to develop wind energy due to issues with planning red tape, according to research by the European Climate Foundation.

However, another review of the guidelines, which will take into account the Government’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 51pc by 2030, will spark a backlash in rural communities as it is likely to result in more relaxed construction rules.

The Government is also obliged to adhere to a recent EU agreement to fast-track the construction of onshore turbines in light of the energy crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The memo being brought to Cabinet said: “Given the policy and energy security developments at national and EU level since the publication of the 2019 draft Wind Energy Development Guidelines, it is necessary to review the existing draft guidelines for consistency with new and emerging policy context.

“In light of the above and having regarding to the National Energy Security Framework and further to support the requirement of the Climate Action Plan 2023, it may be necessary to amend the previously preferred draft approach to review of the guidelines in a targeted manner,” it added.

Officials from the Department of the Environment will now work with officials from the Department of Housing to amend the guidelines.

They will work “in particular, in respect of noise parameters and assessment methodologies, devising new parameters where necessary and implementable in order to support the national policy ambition to increase renewable energy production whilst providing appropriate noise nuisance safeguards”.

The review will seek to ensure turbine rules are “user friendly” and take into account legislative changes to planning and environmental law.

A set of draft guidelines for wind turbine construction was published in 2019 and called for a set back distance of at least 500m for a structure built near a residential property.

It also set limits on the noise emitted by turbines and the shadow flicker from the turbine’s large rotating blades.

The noise limits in the most recent guidelines were stricter and more focused on reducing the impact on communities than those published in 2006.

Lobby group Wind Energy Ireland criticised the limitations on noise and warned it will take the Government longer to achieve its climate action targets if they are introduced. In 2020, it estimated the curtailment on noise would equate to an additional cost to the consumer of €2.7bn over 25 years to deliver the four gigawatts of onshore wind required under the Government’s previous Climate Action Plan.

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