Tuesday 6 December 2016

Environment Minister admits 'tension' within government over wind turbine plans

Niall O’Connor and Philip Ryan

Published 03/12/2015 | 17:41

Robert Troy, Fianna Fail deputy for Longford-Westmeath
Robert Troy, Fianna Fail deputy for Longford-Westmeath

ENVIRONMENT Minister Alan Kelly has admitted there is “tensions” between government departments over the introduction of controversial planning guidelines for the wind energy industry.

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But Mr Kelly said he is confident that the government will produce details of a new set back distance for wind turbines prior to the General Election.

The new rules are expected to increase the minimum distance between turbines and private residences. The current distance is 500m.

Wind energy companies are also expected to be stopped from constructing mega-windmills higher than 170m,

There is rising public frustration over the wind energy issue which is affecting many parts of rural Ireland - including Mr Kelly's homeland of north Tipperary - and it is likely to be a key issue when the country goes to the polls.

Rural groups, which include major figures in the equine industry, are demanding that the Government introduces significant set-back distances and heavily regulate turbine construction.

But the issue has been a bone of contentious between Mr Kelly and his Cabinet colleague, Communications Minister Alex White.

Mr White, a TD for Dublin-Rathdown, is adamant that the development of more onshore wind turbines must be strongly supported.

The Labour TD has also warned that overly rigorous planning guidelines could result in Ireland missing EU renewable energy targets and will leave the country liable for huge fines.

The issue of wind turbines dominated ‘Leaders’ Questions’ in the Dáil on Thursday and led to heated exchanges.

Fianna Fáil’s Children’s spokesman Robert Troy argued strongly that rural groups are deeply worried over the impact turbine development will have on rural groups.

Mr Troy took a swipe at Mr White, suggesting that the matter of wind turbines “may not be a big issue in the centre of Dublin.”

There were heated scenes as the Longford/Westmeath TD demanded to know when the Government will publish its wind energy guidelines.

“This is of extreme concern for the equine industry, for people living in rural Ireland, the impact it could have on potential tourism,” Mr Troy said.

The issue was later raised at a media event on climate change, which was attended by both Mr Kelly and Mr White.

Mr Kelly admitted the issue has been the subject of tensions between both departments but said he is confident the matter will be resolved before the election.

“Well it would be fair to say that the two departments, there are tensions between the two departments, as regards issues regarding planning, as regards how you would set back various different turbines,” Mr Kelly said.

Mr White added:

 “We want to try to make sure we get a solution that best matches the genuine legitimate interests of communities and the planning code, and the necessity to drive  on with a credible  renewable energy policy.”

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