Firmer guidance on siting consents

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Proposals requiring planning authorities in Ireland to identify areas of potential for wind energy developments have been unveiled by the Irish government. The guidelines will help in the delivery of more wind energy in a manner that protects the environment and balances the needs of local communities, says environment minister Martin Cullen. He adds that a planning system geared towards wind energy can help achieve Ireland's climate change targets.

The draft Planning Guidelines on Wind Energy Development propose that development plans map areas where wind projects will be acceptable. It also require authorities to be favourably disposed to granting consent to projects in those areas.

But Cullen warns the guidelines will challenge preconceptions about where wind farms should be located. "There has been a perception that designating an area for natural heritage reasons or due to the presence of rare birds will prevent any wind farm proposals going ahead there," he says. "The guidelines show how these impacts can be mitigated by prospective applicants and planning authorities working together and agreeing on measures to avoid or minimise potential adverse effects."

Ronnie Owens from wind farmers co-operative Meitheal na Gaoithe believes the guidelines will give more confidence to rural communities to become involved in local wind farms. "Our members alone have already lost over EUR 1 million in failed planning applications and any improvement in creating a more transparent planning system is to be welcomed," he says.

But Owens criticises the lack of action on wind by other government departments and agencies. "The good news on the planning front is not matched by similar advances on the issue of grid connections and power purchase agreements for wind energy." He claims that failure by ESB National Grid to develop electricity transmission wires in line with government policy, coupled with institutional resistance to the independent energy sector, have all but stopped new developments in wind energy in Ireland.

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