West Waterford community groups fighting against windfarm developments in their area have slammed recommendations which would mean shorter setback distances.
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 ft high planned for the region.
Several schemes already operating have raised numerous concerns 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 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 altar 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 who are 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 a 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 Paddy Massey, chairman of the Blackwater Windaware group, said: “It is clear to anyone who has suffered from having to live close to windfarms for the past several years have not been listened to at all and continue to be ignored by the government. It’s almost like the government wrote these new guidelines themselves.”
The chairman also dismisses the argument that modern technology has reduced noise levels as “utterly laughable”.
Submissions to the guidelines review are accepted until February 19.