Source: Harry McGee, The Irish Times.

Court found that the public must be informed before energy policy is implemented

The Government has deferred a decision to issue new guidelines for wind farms following a European Court ruling. File photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The Government has deferred a decision to issue new guidelines for wind farms following a European Court ruling which imposed duties on the State to inform the public fully.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten will bring a memo to Cabinet tomorrow asking for a deferral on the guidelines.

The new guidelines will lay down rules on how far wind turbines should be set back from residential dwellings, on noise aspects, as well as light and shadow “flicker” from the rotating blades.

In late October, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling that the Walloon government in Belgium acted unlawfully when it created a sectoral policy aimed at facilitating the deployment of wind energy without properly informing the general public.

In light of the decision, Mr Naughten is understood to be of the view that the guidelines cannot now be published by the end of the year, as envisaged.

Instead, a further process of public consultation will be required before the guidelines are issued.

The Minister’s legal advice is that the ECJ judgement requires the public to be fully informed about the guidelines and their implications.

The issue of how far wind turbines should be from residents has been a running controversy for almost three years, since the Government published “draft” revisions to noise, setback and shadow flicker limits.

The original 2006 wind energy development guidelines still apply. However, they set no minimum distance between turbines and nearby houses.

As the industry has developed, local communities have increasingly objected to the development of wind farms .

Draft revisions

The draft revisions published in 2013 (which have never taken effect) set more stringent levels, including a mandatory minimum setback of 500 metres, noise limits, and the complete elimination of “shadow flicker” for nearby dwellings.

The Department received more than 7,500 submissions on the issue.

hen Alan Kelly became minister in 2014, he initiated a further review, with suggestions that he was going to increase the setback distance to 1km or more. He never confirmed such suggestions.

The government’s term expired before the guidelines could be published.

The new Minister, Mr Naughten, said the new guidelines would be ready by the end of 2016.

There has been extensive lobbying on this issue by the industry and also residents’ groups opposed to wind energy in their areas.

While several developments (some major) have gone ahead during the period, climate-change campaigners believe the controversy and uncertainty over the guidelines has deterred further developments.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he found it hard to see how the guidelines could be further delayed because the process has already dragged on for three or four years.

“There is a looming crisis in the renewable sector. We are looking at a lot of future projects that are stalling.

“That decision to delay is going to make that worse,” he said.