Heritage Council urges national planning policy for onshore wind

Council warns of risks of ‘light touch’ regulatory approach to renewable energy

The Heritage Council has said it believes there is scope for retention of a “high-quality environment” and development of onshore and offshore wind.

The Heritage Council has said it believes there is scope for retention of a “high-quality environment” and development of onshore and offshore wind.

 


Renewable energy could have a negative impact on “non-renewable heritage assets” unless the Government draws up a national planning policy for onshore wind, the Heritage Council has said.

Echoing a call by the Irish Planning Institute, the Heritage Council has said it believes there is scope for retention of a “high-quality environment” and development of onshore and offshore wind.

However, it says “public involvement in environmental decision-making” is crucial, and warns of the potential damage that could be inflicted with a “light touch approach”.

The current regulatory framework for onshore wind is “weak, disjointed and out of date”, the council says in its two-volume study just published.

“Wind farm developments are often described as ‘clean energy’ but if they are inappropriately planned and developed, they have the potential to adversely impact our unique heritage assets.”

The reports, which were drawn up between April and October this year, recommend a “landscape-scale policy response” to Ireland’s growing energy needs.

Ireland’s heritage, cultural and natural, needs to be accounted for in any national planning policy, and up-to-date and improved “section 28” guidelines on landscape and landscape assessment, backed up with training, are “vital”.

Noise limits
Last week a proposed setback distance of 500 metres from homes and noise limits of 40 decibels were among changes proposed by Minister of State for the Environment Jan O’Sullivan to section 28 guidelines on wind energy.

The existing guidelines under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 date from 2006, when turbines were not reaching height equivalents of the Dublin Spire and there were no renewable energy export agreements with Britain.

The Heritage Council studies note that key policy initiatives including the European Landscape Convention and the Strategic Environment Assessment directive were not included at the outset in the current section 28 guidelines.

Incorporation of the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention is “critical” to enable community participation in decision-making, it says.

The convention, which Ireland ratified in 1998, but only signed up to fully last year, says there must be public access to environmental information, environmental decision-making and to justice.

‘Robust processes’
It says that additional training and up-skilling is required at local authority level to manage successfully the stages of strategic and project-based assessment, while “robust processes” are also required at government department level to provide up-to-date policy and guidance.

Referring to the controversy over EirGrid’s grid upgrading, the council notes that many of the issues arising over wind turbines can equally be applied to pylons and grid connection, and require the same national response.