Minimum distance rules alarm Polish wind sector

POLAND: The Polish wind industry is alarmed at growing support for a proposal to introduce a minimum distance of 1.5 kilometres between wind farms and homes, which could devastate wind developments in the country.

Stopwiatrakom.eu publishes information on wind farm protests
Stopwiatrakom.eu publishes information on wind farm protests

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As the capacity of projected wind stations in Poland has increased to 64GW, the idea to set a minimum distance between turbines and homes has been gaining ground. Two provinces have set guidelines for local spatial plans that suggest a minimum 1km distance.

The Ministry of Environment sets a maximum 45 decibel level for noise created by wind turbines for residential areas at night and 55dB during the day. Anti-wind protestors claim that this is not enough because this means that turbines are often installed 400 metres from homes, which they consider much too close.

The number of anti-wind protests has grown from 65 in July to 70 at the beginning of August, according to the www.stopwiatrakom.eu website, which publishes information on wind farm protests. This may not seem a substantial number in comparison to several hundred wind projects in Poland, but the case has attracted political attention which may be fatal for the industry.

The bill proposing the minimum distance was put forward by Anna Zalewska, a member of Parliament from centre right opposition party Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc. "I have been just preparing a few amendments to existing laws that will introduce this minimum distance," she says. Zalewska was one of the organisers of a conference grouping wind farms opposition in March.

The 140 attendants unsuccessfully demanded that the cabinet announces a moratorium on building and planning wind farms until the minimum distance regulation is introduced. "I have attended more than 50 meetings with local citizens protesting against wind farms that are being planned 400-500 metres from their homes - 1.5km is a minimum distance that guarantees safe infrasound level," Zalewska says.

The proposal, which has not yet been submitted to the Parliament, has not received formal approval from Prawo i Sprawiedlwosc Party either. The opposition party does not have enough votes to pass the amendments and the chances that the ruling majority, which has to fulfill EU climate obligations, will support the proposal are very small.

Two out of sixteen Polish provinces: Dolnoslaskie and Kujawsko-pomorskie have just introduced new planning guidelines at the county level. The two provinces proposed that counties set a minimum 1km distance for wind turbines. Although the guidelines are just suggestions for the local authorities and have no legal force, the wind industry is worried that the trend will grow.

The Polish Wind Energy Association (PWEA) has sent a letter to Prawo I Sprawiedliwosc Parliamentary club chairman reminding him of Poland’s renewable energy obligations. The PWEA in Szczecin with Polish Wind Energy Society in Gdansk have also decided to fund a portal of knowledge on the wind industry.

"The only way to convince the protesters is a dialogue supported by rational arguments and education," says PWES president Bogdan Gutkowski.

This move seems to be a few years late. Wind farm opponents commonly uses para-scientific arguments claiming that infrasounds emitted by turbines are extremely dangerous as well as stroboscopic effect caused in their opinion by rotating blades. Some even maintain that all the biological life dies out within a 200 metre radius from turbines. 

The impact of the proposed regulation is best illustrated by EDP Renewables’ Pawlowo project. The 78MW wind farm is planned near 11 villages in Golancz country in the Wielkopolska province. None of the 51 wind turbines is planned to be further than 600 metres from homes. 

Introducing a 1.5km minimum distance will wipe out €120million investment in wind. "Most of the projects in Poland will never be realised because they have been designed mostly 500 metres from homes in accordance with present environmental quality standards for noise. It will be very difficult to find a site for a big farm in Poland under the new regulation," says Jacek Babczynski general counsel of EDP Renewables in Poland. 

EDP Renewables has recently built the biggest project in Poland – a 120MW Margonin Wind Farm, situated next to the Pawlowo project. Building big onshore stations is an expanding trend in Poland because of the grid-related cost issues: "Very often it is necessary to build several dozen mile long cables to connect the farm to the grid, and then only the big projects are cost-effective," Babczynski explains. 


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