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Wednesday 17 October 2018

Advice: New guidelines will help clear the air over neighbour's wind-farm plans

 

Wind turbines generating electricity
Wind turbines generating electricity

Theresa Murphy

Q I am a farmer living in quite a remote area and have learned that one of my neighbours has been approached by a windfarm company with a view to building turbines on his land.

I am concerned about potential noise pollution and visual impact issues and how it will impact on my property.

Can you please advise what protections I have under existing legislation and how the courts have adjudicated in cases taken by objectors?

I understand the advantages for power generation but I am worried about my own situation.

A. The construction of all large-scale windfarms will have to go through the planning permission process. This allows all concerned landowners some time to consider the potential impacts of any development of this type on them and object, if necessary, to these applications.

There are a number of developments which are exempt from planning and these are published by the Department of the Environment.

These exemptions cover micro-generation units with a maximum height of 13 metres for domestic turbines and units with a maximum height of 20m for businesses.

A review of the 2006 regulations in this area has seen the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment publish preferred draft proposals on the main issues.

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Revised guidelines are due to be published shortly. These guidelines are expected to provide more details on how noise of turbines, in particular, will be dealt with. These new guidelines will be made available for public consultation.

Noise

The proposals cover issues like noise, flicker (from the blades) and minimum setback distance.

The proposed new noise restriction limits in line with World Health Organisation standards, proposing a relative rated noise limit of five decibels above existing background noise within the range of 35-43 decibels for both day and night, with 43 decibels being the maximum noise limit permitted.

The rated limit will take account of certain noise characteristics specific to wind turbines (eg, tonal, low frequency and amplitude modulation) and, where identified, the noise limit permitted will be further reduced to mitigate for these noise characteristics.

These limits will be a condition as part of the planning permission process.

If you are located in a very rural and quiet area, the change to the noise level could be something to keep a close eye on in the proposed development.

Setback limits

It is proposed to introduce a setback distance of four times the tip height between a wind turbine and the curtilage (area surrounding) of a residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum setback of 500m.

These setback requirements are for visual amenity purposes but it will be required in all cases that the noise limits outlined must be complied with (so if the noise limits require the setback to be further than 500m then the longer setback distance will apply).

There are no changes expected to the 500m setback requirement in the 2018 guidelines.

 

Community consultation

The proposals will require developers to have early and constructive consultation with communities on proposed wind farm developments before a planning application is made.

In this regard, a Community Report will be required to be submitted with a planning application, outlining how the final proposal was shaped in response to those consultations.

This article is intended as a general guide only and you should seek professional advice in relation to your individual circumstances. Theresa Murphy is a barrister at law, based in Ardrahan, Co Galway

Solar panels can have a dark side if you live near a large-scale development

The need for more sustainable forms of energy production - among other factors - has seen an increased interest in solar panels in rural Ireland over the past number of years.

A planning permission exemption exists for solar panel installation on agricultural structures, or within the curtilage of an agricultural holding or on or within the curtilage of a house, or any buildings within the curtilage of the house (subject to certain conditions).

Solar panel farms are more typically made up of ground-mounted panels. In those type of developments the exemption from planning permission limits the array to 25m (total area of the solar panels) and the height of the free-standing solar panel cannot exceed two metres.

Bearing in mind these size limits, most commercial solar panel enterprises will require planning permission.

It is at that stage neighbouring landowners should be examining the setback area from the border and other impacts the development may have on their lands.

Typically solar panels are set well back from the hedge/ditch so as to avoid the shadow cast by it.

Remember, solar panels don't need sun, they need daylight, which makes Ireland a good location for this type of development.

The case for wind and solar energy has been well made as we move towards more sustainable sources of power.

However, if you find that you are a landowner located near a large-scale development, you may well consider the development to be accompanied by a number of potentially negative effects.

Don't delay in seeking advice in relation to the potential impact that a proposed development may have on you and your property, and engage with the community consultative process where applicable also.

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