13 Dec 2019
Draft Wind Energy Guidelines 2019 (General Scheme) Published
The long-awaited draft Wind Energy Development Guidelines (WEGs) for public consultation were published today by Eoghan Murphy T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (DHPCLG) and Richard Bruton T.D., Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE). The consultation will run for ten weeks and it will have a deadline of the 19th of February 2020.
These guidelines “offer advice to planning authorities on planning for wind energy through the development plan process and in determining applications for planning permission. The guidelines are also intended to ensure a consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification of suitable locations for wind energy development and the treatment of planning applications for wind energy developments. They should also be of assistance to developers and the wider public in considering wind energy development.”
The good news is that the DHPCLG are insisting that County Council Plans and policies must adopt these guidelines in full, therefore applying consistency across all Renewable Energy Strategies with regard to Development Management objectives.
The key points are as follows;
Set back distances
A setback distance for visual amenity purposes of 4 times the tip height is to be applied between a wind turbine and the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property in the vicinity of the proposed development, subject to a mandatory minimum setback of 500 metres.
An exception may be provided for a lower setback requirement from existing or permitted dwellings or other sensitive properties to new turbines where the owner(s) and occupier(s) of the relevant property or properties are agreeable to same but the noise requirements of these Guidelines must be capable of being complied with in all cases. Whilst we were aware of the requirements for set back distances the relaxation for involved landowners is onerous as noise limits have to be met in all instances.
Flexibility in Turbine Locations
The guidelines echoes the 2006 Guidelines surrounding the issue of micrositing. The guidelines state that “as the precise location of turbines may need to be modified in the course of development due to matters such as the wind regime, ground conditions, or heritage concerns, etc., it may be helpful framing conditions to allow for a degree of flexibility in the final siting of turbines. Where this flexibility is agreed upon details of final specification should be submitted to and agreed in writing with the planning authority prior to commencement of development. In implementing this flexibility it would be important for the developer to ensure that any post planning changes are not material to the planning consent and comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment.
The new Guidelines encourage the implementation of a standardised operational period of 30 years for wind energy across the Country. This is a welcomed standardisation to the usual 25 years).
The Draft Guidelines indicate that they are based on best international practice on wind turbine noise control including the Institute of Acoustics Good Practice Guides, WHO Guidelines and a procedure for the assessment of low frequency noise complaints.
The draft guidelines propose a noise limit, referred to as a Relative Rated Noise Limit (RRNL) in the range of 35 – 43 dB(A), while not exceeding the background noise level by more than 5dB(A) with an upper limit of 43 dB(A). This is in line with the “preferred draft approach” announced by DHPCLG and DCCAE on 13th June 2017. The noise limits in the draft guidelines are more onerous that the 2006 WEGs and afford a higher level of protection to people who live in the vicinity of an any future wind farm developments.
The rated wind turbine noise level (LA rated, 10 min) is determined by the measured noise level attributable to or related to the wind energy development plus any rating penalties for special audible characteristics. The guidelines impose penalties of up to 11 dB(A) on noise with tonal and amplitude modulation characteristics, in addition to a fixed threshold for low frequency noise. A penalty was for special audible characteristics was identified in the “preferred draft approach”. However, the nature and extent of the maximum penalty of 11 dB is higher than was expected. The penalty is so significant that it is unlikely that most wind farms development would not be able operate with special audible characteristics and mitigation measures will be required to ensure that such special audible characteristics do not occur.
The Draft Guidelines confirm a policy of zero shadow flicker. The Draft Guidelines recommend planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála to impose condition(s) to ensure that no existing dwelling or other affected property will experience shadow flicker as a result of the wind energy development subject of the planning application and the wind energy development shall be installed and operated in accordance with the shadow flicker study submitted to accompany the planning application, including any mitigation measures required. It may be the case that a higher level of certainty and site specific mitigation measures may be a prerequisite for Shadow flicker assessments going forward.
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 Institute of Acoustics, A Good Practice Guide to the Application of ETSU-R-97 for the Assessment and Rating of Wind Turbine Noise, May 2013 including Supplementary Guidance Note 1 to 6.
 World Health Organization, Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Union, 2018.
 Moorhouse, A., Waddington D. and Adams, M., Procedure for the assessment of low frequency noise complaints, February 2005, Contract no NANR45 to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).