The Government has decided not to increase the mandatory set back distance for high-powered wind turbines in its new rules for the wind energy industry.
However, a raft of new restrictions for wind turbine construction are expected to limit the impact on communities affected by the rising number of wind farms in rural Ireland.
The new regulations, which were agreed at Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s last Cabinet meeting, retain the mandatory minimum 500m set back distance for the construction of turbines nears homes.
But turbines will also have to be built a distance of four times the height of the turbine from residential areas.
This means a 150m wind turbine would have to be constructed at least 600m from the nearest home.
There will also be stringent restrictions on noise levels from high-powered turbines, which will impact on the number of turbines that can be built in one area.
Local authorities will be tasked with enforcing noise limit rules in their counties and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be charged with policing sound levels.
Breaches of noise restrictions will result in turbines being turned off. The noise levels are based on standards set by the World Health Organisation. The maximum noise level permitted will be the same for both night and day, opposed to two different levels as is currently the case.
The new rules include a zero tolerance policy on shadow flicker from turbines which has impacted on some homes in rural communities.
The guidelines insist shadow flicker should be eliminated through “technology and appropriate modelling at design stage” and if it does occur turbines should turn off automatically.
Wind farm companies will also be required to hold “constructive consultation” with communities before applying for planning permission.
And energy firms will be obliged to pay a “community dividend” to areas affected by the construction of wind farms.
“It is proposed that developers will need to offer a form of community dividend that will ensure the project will be of enduring economic benefit to the communities concerned,” the guidelines stated.
The draft Wind Energy Development Guidelines will now be sent for consultation and are expected to be passed into law in the next six months.
The guidelines were drafted by Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Communications and Energy Minister Denis Naughten.
In a statement, Mr Coveney said the new guidelines will facilitate the construction of wind farms and address the “real concerns” of people living near turbines.
“I think it is important that we are in a position to give greater clarity to stakeholders, local authorities, the energy sector and the wider community as to the broad direction that the review is taking,” he added.