Councils across Ireland have been warned about the consequences of disregarding national guidelines on wind farms.
Environment Minister Eoghan Murphy has written to all local Councils telling them that if they disregard national guidelines on wind farms, he will consider using his powers to overrule them.
A planning circular letter was distributed to high-ranking officials in Councils last week in relation to wind farm guidelines.
In the letter, Minister Murphy threatens to use his powers under Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act to revoke any local plan which he believes improperly blocks wind development.
Last month, a motion which came before the plenary meeting of Waterford City & County Council (and which received cross-party support and was unanimously passed by Councillors) sought a variation to the County Development Plan to take account of different setback distance guidelines.
The motion was proposed as a result of ongoing concerns in Mid County Waterford in relation to BSB Community Energy Ltd.’s plans to erect giant wind turbines.
However, CEO of Waterford City & County Council Michael Walsh warned Councillors that national guidelines would “supersede” any local variations.
In Minister Eoghan Murphy’s letter, he also warns local authorities that changing their County Development Plans would affect the national policy on wind development.
Speaking to RTÉ at the weekend, former Environment Minister Noel Dempsey said the country was nowhere near EU targets.
“What the Government is looking at, at the moment, if we fail to reach our targets for 2020, which we will, is paying out anything between €400m and €600m to the European Commission in fines because we failed to reach our renewable energy targets,” he said.
“The Government clearly has a major headache on its hands that is not of huge interest directly to a local Councillor who happens to have a wind farm proposed for their area and is meeting a lot of local opposition.”
However, a local campaigner has criticised Noel Dempsey’s comments.
“I believe there is something fundamentally wrong when ex-Ministers who ran away from the electorate in 2011 with golden handshakes and multiple pensions are taking up crucial positions lobbying in favour of an industry directly related to the ministerial portfolio they previously held,” he said.
“Mr Dempsey should firstly seek clarification on the subject he wishes to speak about before taking to the national media with incorrect information.”
While some local authorities have sought to bring in variations which would rule out specific areas for the development of wind farms, Mr Hartley pointed out that Waterford’s variation simply calls for the implementation of a setback distance of 10 times the turbine height between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property.
“The current Minister Murphy would be well advised to speak with his predecessor Simon Coveney who could inform him that the Department and the State were defeated in the High Court when opposing the 10 times set back distance,” he said.
“The 10 times height has been tested in the High Court and judicial precedent now exists. This is the same variation proposed by Waterford Councillors.”
He said industrial turbines need “sensible setback distances”.
“Industrial factories are located in industrial zones not beside rural communities,” he said.
Mr Hartley added: “Politics, and more importantly politicians, must start to represent the views and the will of the communities they are elected to represent, instead of large scale corporations whose only interest is in profits. Politics and politicians have to start working for the people or democracy will die.”