How much are wind farms costing the Irish taxpayer?

Community groups across the country are up in arms over wind farm proposals in areas where planning permission had previously been turned down.

AgriLand has learned that wind farm developers across the country have started applying to local authorities to build farms comprising 20 turbines or under.

In other cases, residents feel efforts are being made to develop wind farms in line with the original planning application that was turned down.

And, where developments are taking place, community groups claim that “no consideration” is being afforded to them by some developers.

Questions are now being asked as to whether there are possible loopholes in the planning laws to help some developers get around planning ambitions.

Furthermore, there are also concerns about wind farm guidelines and whether or not they are being misinterpreted.

Despite queries to the Department of Energy, Action and Climate Change, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government seeking clarity on the issues above, no official comment was forthcoming.

However, the Department of Housing did point out that local authorities are responsible for planning regulations where wind farms are concerned.

Co. Kildare

Last year over 300 submissions opposing the Maighne Wind Farm in north-west Kildare and south Meath were made to An Bord Pleanala, after Element Power sought permission to develop a 47-turbine entity in the locality.

The company later sold the wind farm to North Kildare Windfarm Limited – but, the application was denied.

However, in late 2018 a new planning application by the company was made for 12 wind turbines in the same area.

Independent Kildare councillor Padraig McEvoy said uncertainty around guidelines is “adding to the difficulties”.

He said that when Kildare’s County Development Plan was up for revision in 2017 “the topic was very hot” because of the opposition to the Maighne Wind Farm at the time.

If the number of mega watts exceeds the threshold then the application goes straight to An Bord Pleanala.

McEvoy continued: “If it doesn’t then the application is decided at county council level. Kildare’s County Development Plan in 2017 left open the idea that wind farms are part of the solution to the carbon problem.”

He also cautioned that, in terms of the level of sound produced by turbines, the guidelines are “not clearly set out”.

When asked about the Maighne Wind Farm and the opposition in the area to its development, a spokesperson for Kildare County Council said: “This is a live planning application and is the subject of further information. The council will not be making a comment on this matter.”

Co. Kerry

Fred O’Sullivan, chairman of the Sliabh Luachra Wind Awareness Group – which is based along the Cork/Kerry border – pointed to the recent permission granted by Kerry County Council to build a wind farm comprising 14 turbines – 150m in length – in the area.

O’Sullivan claims that the wind farm – named Silver Birches – includes turbines that are “500m from the front door of homes”.

“While we appreciate that the current guidelines on wind farms suggest that a distance of 500m is sufficient from a house, they are only guidelines and developers are placing them even closer than that – now, why are they doing that? Because they can,” said O’Sullivan.

The local chairman went on to say that the group is currently fundraising in an effort to get the planning decision overturned.

These wind farms are costing the taxpayer in Ireland €3.2 million a day. That’s €1.2 billion per year in substitutes to wind farm developers.

“The difficulties that members of the community in south Co. Kerry have is the proximity of the turbines to their homes – they are just too close to them.

“Also, our community only got seven days notice about this development and farmers now find themselves locked into a 30-year contract – they can’t even build on the land for 30 years.”

Cost to the taxpayer

Meanwhile, the figure of €1.2 billion which is part of Wind Aware Ireland’s report, is being disputed.

The Irish Wind Energy Association says it commissioned Baringa – an English company that specialises in energy markets – to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of wind energy in Ireland.

“Over 20 years they added up all the costs of wind energy including: the PSO levy; network upgrades; constraint costs; and technical spending which helps get wind onto the system. They found a cumulative cost to the electricity consumer of €3.3 billion,” said Justin Moran, head of communications and public affairs with the Irish Wind Energy Association.

“Against this, they set the savings wind energy delivers on the wholesale electricity price, the savings in reduced capacity payments and a conservative estimate of the impact of EU fines avoided, which came to around €3.2 billion. The exact difference is a cost of €66 million over 20 years.”

 Moran went on to say that the company was “conscious” that there is a responsibility on the wind energy industry to improve how they engaged with communities.  

He added; “We are also conscious of how we explain the benefits and challenges of developing renewable electricity and to find new ways of working more closely with local people to help to deliver Ireland’s green energy future.”

Co. Donegal

In Co. Donegal a similar situation to what is happening in Co. Kildare has occurred.

Marie Scanlon, spokesperson for Finn Valley Wind Action, said a planning application has been made to An Bord Pleanala for the development of Meenbog Wind Farm – comprising of 19 turbines, in the south east of the county.

Prior to that, in 2016, an application for the development of a wind farm comprising 49 wind turbines – in the same area – was refused by Donegal County Council.

However, the County Development Plan in Co. Donegal is currently being revised after the wind farm developer – Micheal Murnane of Planree Limited – brought judicial review proceedings against it last year.

Scanlon said many people in the area are “completely opposed” to wind energy.

“We are opposed to wind energy development in our area; it is an area that is quite densely populated with houses close together and wind turbines will not work here,” she added.

Department response

In a statement to AgriLand the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said it was currently taking a “focused review” of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines.

The review is addressing a number of key aspects including: sound or noise; visual amenity setback distances; shadow flicker; community obligation; community dividend; and grid connections.

The spokesperson continued: “As part of the overall review, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is being undertaken on the revised guidelines before they come into effect, in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/24/EC, on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment – otherwise known as the SEA Directive.”

The department went on to say that when finalised, the revised guidelines will be issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and that planning authorities and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanala “must have regard to the guidelines”.

In the meantime, the current 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines remain in force.

The spokesperson added: These guidelines refer to development projects in the same manner as other proposed developments and provide an adequate framework through which wind energy developments can continue to be considered by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanala.”