TDs must balance local concerns with ‘bigger picture’ of renewable energy, says Minister
Minister for Energy Alex White has denied a ministerial rift between himself and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly over draft wind energy guidelines.
The guidelines on the size of turbines, their shadow flicker, noise levels and the setback distance from dwellings, were published two years ago but a final decision has yet to be made.
Planning applications for wind turbines are currently operating on guidelines from 2006.
Mr White said the White Paper on energy would be published next week.
Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy had asked if talks between himself and Mr Kelly had broken down.
He said Mr Kelly favoured a distance of between 600 metres and 1.5 km from dwellings but that Mr White was on record in disagreeing with long distances from housing because it would wipe out onshore wind energy in Ireland.
Mr White insisted: “Nothing has broken down between Ministers in relation to it. The departments are continuing to consider what would be the best set of guidelines. But we have guidelines in place at the moment.”
The Minister said there was a good argument to make the guidelines statutory with a very strong case for changing them to deal with the issue of noise and shadow flicker.
However he said “the issue of having a setback distance that’s unconnected to the issue of noise or shadow flicker is more problematic in my view and I’ve been very honest about that.
“If we put in place a setback distance of the kind some people are advocating, it would wipe out onshore wind in this country as a renewable.”
Independent Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath criticised the Government’s handling of the issue, which is controversial in his constituency.
Mr White said he should “try not to continue thinking so small and so local all the time and to think just for five minutes or so to think about the broader opportunities to bring about change”.
Mr Troy said Fianna Fáil had published its alternative policy and had visited Denmark to consult the experts in a country that is held up for international best practice.
He said Denmark had moved away from onshore to offshore wind energy. His party was committed to meeting the EU targets but the wind issue was one of huge concern.
“It might not be a big issue in the centre of Dublin but it is in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath,” he said in reference to Mr White’s Dublin South constituency.
Confirming the White Paper would be published next week, Mr White said a central element would be
addressing the tension between what needed to be done with renewable energy and the concerns of citizens.
But he told Mr Troy: “You cannot reduce the energy policy and your responsibility in this House. . . to the legitimate concerns that local communities have.
“ You have a responsibility to match that as well to what we need to do as a country to have a renewable energy policy that meets the challenges of the future.”
Wind turbines last year provided 23 per cent of energy requirements and 80 per cent of that was from onshore wind. New draft provisions to regulate wind energy were published two years ago, which included noise limits of 40 decibels and a setback distance of 500 metres.
Mr Kelly started consultations in Spring 2014 and received close to 7,500 submissions. A final decision on guidelines had originally been expected in 2014.