Requirements for change in policy around environmental impact assessments on Windfarms

Update the Wind Energy Development guidelines so all Environmental Impact Assessment Reports and Noise Impact Studies would be designed, undertaken and commissioned by the local planning authority, instead of by the developers and that the developers would pay the local authorities to undertake these reports.

Published on May 21, 2021

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“That
i) Given the increasingly contentious nature of recent windfarm planning applications,
ii) The current Wind Energy Development guidelines our planning department are operating under date from 2006,
iii) The Clare wind energy strategy has not been amended since 2011 and itself uses the 2006 guidelines as reference, and
iv) Given the process for developing the new County Development Plan has begun, Clare County Council request the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage update the Wind Energy Development guidelines immediately.

Furthermore, given the recent environmental disaster at the Meenbog Windfarm development in Co Donegal, despite a comprehensive EIAR being undertaken on behalf of the developer, Clare County Council include as a matter of urgency the recommendation that

a) all Environmental Impact Assessment Reports and Noise Impact Studies would be designed, undertaken and commissioned on behalf of the environment and proximate communities by the local planning authority, instead of by the developers and
b) that the developers would pay the local authorities to undertake these reports.”

First of all I would like to the DOS for his response, the first half of which starkly illustrates the utterly inexcusable and abysmal failure of national government over a long number of years to update wind energy development guidelines so we, the planning authority, can actually deliver what we are mandated to do under the Planning and Development Act, ‘provide, in the interests of the common good, for proper planning and sustainable development’.

We are hamstrung, operating as we are, under a set of guidelines that date from 2006, in our ability to determine what sort of place our rural communities, will live in, and what their quality of life will be, for the next 30 years or more.

Back in 2006 turbine heights were in the order of 60m, now they are in excess of 170m. To support these much larger structures we have to build bigger and deeper foundations, the increased environmental, shadow flicker, noise and visual impacts are closer to areas with far greater proximate population densities, are more contentious, negatively impacting many more members of our communities.

Our national guidelines also take no consideration as to the capacity of our local communities to take part in the creation and deliver of wholly owned renewable energy generation. Templederry Wind Farm in Tipperary is the first such development, to generate the same amount of local economic benefit as its two turbines, we would have to facilitate 33 commercially owned ones. This deficit means we, who are tasked with economic and sustainable development for the county and its people, will be complicit in removing the huge opportunity 100% community owned renewable generation can deliver for our rural communities.

My principle concern is this planning authority, through no fault of its own, is having to accommodate totally inappropriate developments here in our county, developments that create significant social and environmental risks for ourselves and the communities in our care, and that will deliver very little for the communities within which they are situated as they are sold off to overseas pension funds for a state guaranteed return and to multinational companies so they can market how green they are.

This is precisely the reason we need the guidelines updated as a matter of urgency… so we can make good decisions, for the common good, based on current technical and economic data, rather than bad decisions based on decades old information.

As a last point, I would like to clarify to the director, and my colleagues, I did not recommend that local authorities would carry out expert reports on behalf of private developers, what I requested was, the recommendation that these reports would be carried out on behalf of the community and the environment by the council, and paid for by the developer… given the questions that arise from the apparent failure of EIARs to correctly assess the environmental impact of a development in Meenbog, Co. Donegal.

There is a fatal flaw in the commercial wind energy development system, the fox is in charge of the hen house… there is an old saying, he who pays the piper calls the tunes, it is high time we insisted that developer led projects should not be designing and paying for the technical social and environmental impact data that permits them to proceed. We have seen the consequence of that policy time and time again across multiple sectors, and those consequences have always seen the public purse pick up the costs of these systemic failures. Asking the department to ensure the new guidelines tackle that issue is merely requesting we remove the risk associated with developer led projects self-determining the impacts of their projects…I struggle to understand why this request could be seen as an unreasonable.

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