76 Irish wind farms may be forced to shut down unless urgent changes made to planning system

Government must move to ensure ‘repowering’ to more efficient wind farms is made a lot easier

10/04/2014 - NEWS -  WEB - STOCK - GENERAL VIEW - FILE - GV. General aerial view Windfarm in Ireland.
 Photo: David Sleator/THE IRISH TIMES
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As many as 76 wind farms with an installed capacity of 854 megawatts (MW) reach the end of their planning permission by 2030. Photograph: David Sleator

Dozens of Irish wind farms may be forced to shut down before 2030 unless urgent changes are made to the planning system, according to a Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) report.

As many as 76 wind farms with an installed capacity of 854 megawatts (MW) reach the end of their planning permission by decade end. If they cannot extend their planning permission or be repowered, then they will be decommissioned, the report by planning and environmental consultancy MKO says.

“This means more carbon emissions, higher electricity prices, even greater dependence on imported fossil fuels and increased risk to our energy security,” it concludes. This would result in the loss of approximately 20 per cent of the State’s installed wind energy capacity, making the Government’s climate targets “essentially unachievable and increase Ireland’s reliance on energy imports”.

The Government’s Climate Action Plan targets wind energy producing 14 gigawatts of electricity by 2030 in an effort to cut emissions in that sector by 80 per cent from 2018 levels. At present, wind farms in the Republic have capacity to produce about 4.7 gigawatts, according to EirGrid.


“Simply because a wind farm’s planning permission has come to an end does not mean it cannot continue producing power,” WEI chief executive Noel Cunniffe said. “Ireland’s oldest wind farm is 32 years old this year and still producing power. Many of these wind farms which are under threat could operate for five, 10 or even more years.

“We need to make it easier for wind farm owners to extend the duration of their planning permissions and, in the Government’s new wind energy guidelines to be published before the end of the year, ensure the same problem does not arise in future.

“There is simply no reason, in the middle of twin climate and energy crises, to decommission operational wind farms because of planning restrictions, unsupported by evidence, imposed decades ago.”

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On foot of the report, WEI issued recommendations on maintaining Ireland’s position as a global leader in onshore wind energy.

These include allowing operational wind farms to continue operating by making it easier for them to get permission from planning authorities to extend their permission. “This can be a costly and time-consuming process with no guarantee of success,” Mr Cunniffe added.

Under the revised guidelines, the planning permission lifetime for onshore wind farms should be increased to align with the approach of the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities.

“The regulator requires that the operational lifetime for a wind farm’s grid connection should be 50 years so increasing the lifetime for the wind farm to match this would seem logical,” he said.

The Government needs to put in place policies to support repowering, he said. This is where the original turbines are taken down to be recycled and new, modern, turbines are installed in their place. This means all existing grid infrastructure can be reused at a location where the local community is already familiar with the technology.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times