Westmeath County Council told to remove restrictions on wind farms

County development plan imposed setback distance of 10 times turbine height

Minister of State for Planning Jan O'Sullivan has used her powers to direct Westmeath County Council to remove restrictions on wind farm developments in its county development plan, which was adopted in January.

Under the plan, wind farm developers would have been required to implement a setback distance for new turbines from houses of 10 times the overall height of the turbine – or 1.85km in the case of a 185m turbine.

In letter to the council, the Minister of State described this measure as being “significantly inconsistent with . . . national targets for the generation of energy from renewable sources” and called on the council to review it. She claimed that the councillors did not “take sufficient account” of her department’s wind energy guidelines, which set a minimum distance of 500m between a turbine and a house – a figure repeated in draft revised guidelines.

Objectors to wind energy developments in the midlands have expressed “absolute dismay” over Ms O’Sullivan’s intervention, saying the separation distance was required to protect public health from noise and “shadow flicker”.


In letters to the council, they said the measure had been adopted after much consultation with communities, councillors and the Westmeath county planners, with some 2,500 submissions supporting the restrictions. These were “overwhelmingly in support of protecting community health”, the objectors said, adding that the ministerial intervention “interferes with democracy, and the decisions made by our elected representatives”.

Under Westmeath’s county plan, as adopted, areas deemed suitable for wind farm developments are identified – particularly cutaway bogs – and other locations subject to the setback of 10 times the overall turbine height.

The objectors note that German guidelines for wind energy prescribe a mandatory setback of 1.6km from homes in "pure residential areas, which is the equivalent of Irish rural areas", according to them, while Denmark pays compensation.

“It is internationally accepted that industrial wind turbines devalue property prices in the vicinity of wind farms,” the objectors said.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor