Community groups fighting against windfarm developments in their area of west Waterford have slammed setback recommendations in a Government review of wind energy guidelines as “developer-led” and likely to accentuate their concerns.
The proposals are contained in a Draft Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines document, which invites submissions aimed at upgrading the much-criticised present 2006 guidelines.
Wind farm guidelines are particularly pertinent to Waterford Council as it sets about formatting a new county development plan.
The west of the county presently has 43 turbines above 150 feet high planned for the region.
Meanwhile several schemes already operating have raised numerous claims of adverse health consequences from noise disturbance, sound frequencies and shadow flicker.
The draft document acknowledges that “the issue of increased mandatory setback distances was cited by many respondents as being important".
However community groups are angered that it also appears to downplay that very factor.
The document cautions that “mandatory setback distances determine (and thereby reduce) the scope of wind energy projects" and continues that mandatory setbacks would “effectively rule out very large swathes of the country for such developments” or would push them into “environmentally sensitive upland and wilderness areas that can be otherwise inappropriate”.
The 2006 guidelines advocate a setback ration of eight times the tip height but the revised proposal seeks to alter the distance to four times the tip height, to a minimum of 500 metres.
With turbines nowadays typically up to three times the size of their earlier manifestations, this is proposed as a longer setback but Seán Harris, spokesman for Barranafaddock residents opposed to a wind development currently under a court appeal, says the ratio “should at least remain the same, given the increased size of the turbines”.
The document also suggests that “technological advancements in noise abatement and the development of quieter turbines” have reduced setback requirements.
Furthermore the guidelines propose adjusting the mandatory sound levels to five decibels above background noise to maximum of 43dB (A) day or night, from a range of 35-40d(A).
This is presented as reducing the potential for “significant increases in noise levels at low background noise level locations".
However chairman of the Blackwater Windaware group, Paddy Massey, is unimpressed: “It is clear to anyone who has suffered from having to live close to windfarms for the past several years have not been listened at all and continue to be ignored by the Government. It’s almost like the Government wrote these new guidelines themselves!”
Mr Massey says the new proposals are “particularly alarming” alongside Environment Minister Eoghan Murphy’s earlier planning bill aimed at capping costs for people contesting planning decisions and thus “curtailing people’s ability to object to developments”.
Mr Massey also dismisses the argument that modern technology has reduced noise levels as “utterly laughable”.
His view is shared by Mr Harris who asks: “Can the Minister actually stand over that and will he deal with it when someone living near one is suffering?"
Submissions to the guidelines review are accepted until Feb 19.