By Joe Barrett
Councillors in Laois rejected a council management proposal to scrap the existing 1.5kilometre set back distance of wind turbines from homes, and instead reduce the distance to 500 metres.
The issue came up for discussion during the meeting on the County’s Chief Executive’s report on the draft Laois County Development Plan 2021-2027 on Wednesday 1 September.
After the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) had studied the draft plan it recommended that a section of the plan should be amended to bring it in line with national interim guidelines on renewable energy – set back distance of 500 metres.
The county’s Chief Executive John Mulholland in reply to the OPR said: “In December 2019, the department published a draft Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines, for which the responses will inform the final guidelines. To date, given that the Department has not finalised its review of the current guidelines, the guidelines remain in full effect, and the Planning Authority must be consistent with the standards set out.”
He said that council officials accept that the current 1.5km set back distance should be removed and the council would apply the present national setback guideline distance.
“Is an anaerobic digester included in that,” asked cllr Willie Aird?
He demanded: “ I Want a buffer zone. And in writing. I want a buffer zone for them, the same as the wind mills. Anaerobic digesters should be at least 1.5km away from a house.”
Cllr Aisling Moran said: “Nineteen public representatives, a Minister and two Dáil deputies put in objections to the siting (Cool na Mona, just outside Portlaoise) of that (Bord na Mona anaerobic digester waste to gas facility). It is being developed right beside a dwelling house. We were overruled because it wasn’t in the last County Development Plan.”
Head of planning at the council Angela McEvoy said that the demand by councillors to retain the 1.5km setback distance was not based on any scientific evidence and advised that their demand might be overruled when the County Development Plan is finalised in December.
“Do unto others and you’d want others to do unto you,” stormed cllr Aird.
He demanded to know: “What would you do if an anaerobic digester was right outside your house window?”
Ms McEvoy said that the 1.5km setback distance would remain in the draft County Development Plan, “for now.”
Cllr Pádraig Fleming then went on to formerly propose that councillors reject the recommendation to the 500m set back distance to be included in the draft plan and retain the 1.5km setback distance for commercial/industrial sized wind farms from schools, dwellings, community centres, public roads and farms that is in the current County Development Plan.
He told the meeting that he had recently visited Mount Lucas in Offaly where there is a wind farm and standing about 200m back from a turbine, he “couldn’t believe the flicker that was coming off the blades. It was a continuous flicker. Wind turbines are now far bigger and taller than they once were.”
Cllr Dwane Stanley seconded the motion.
She said: “The 1.5km set back distance was put in there for a reason. There is no legal legislation there at the moment regarding wind farms. I’m not sure why they’re (council management) is asking for a reduction in the set back distance and want to know why they want to change the current policy?”
At present there are four wind turbines located in Baunaghra (Laois/Tipperary border) and eight in Gorthahile, Bilboa. Planning permission has already been approved to locate two turbines at Graigueadrisley, Rathdowney and 11 in the townlands of Knockardugal, Boleybawn, Garrintaggart, Ironmills and Graiguenahown. Planning permission was also granted for the construction of 18 wind turbines between Ballyroan and Timahoe.
Solar energy farms have also been approved and are in place across approximately 330ha (815 acres) of lands in Kilcoran, Rathdowney, Nigbog, Coolabacky, Esker, Money Lower and Loughteeog, Stradbally. As well as Rathleague, Portlaoise and Derrymore, Mountrath.
The Anaerobic Digester planned for Portlaoise has the potential, according to Bord na Mona, to use up to 80,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste. The project has the potential to produce approximately 7,000,000m3 of biomethane and be used as an alternative fuel to fossil fuels for regional energy and heat production. The biomethane from the proposed development is intended to be injected into the gas network and it will then form a portion of gas used in the network for residential, commercial and industrial purposes.