Guidelines for Wind Farm Development
The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government have published a draft copy of Wind Farm Planning Guidelines to assist the proper planning of wind power projects in appropriate locations around Ireland. The guidelines, first published in 1996, have been revised to account for changes in renewable energy policy, modern wind turbine technology evolution and amended procedures to encourage wind energy at a localised planning level.
Guidelines are meant to be practical and general for similar projects. Because each wind project has it's own characteristics, some of which are more important than others depending on location, it is impossible to write a template or checklist for universal use. Guidelines are general and do not replace existing national energy, environmental and planning policy.
View the draft Wind Farm Planning Guidelines document on the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government website.
Some sites are more suitable for wind farms than others. Wind speed is the most important requirement; generally the most exposed sites will generate the most electricity.
Other technical considerations include the size of the site; access to the site by road; access to a local grid entry point; and the capacity of the grid at that point to transport electricity from the proposed site.
Environmental considerations include the visibility of the site from important viewpoints; proximity to dwellings; ecology; archaeological, architectural and cultural heritage; recreational uses; and restricted areas (e.g. airports).
If a project is to be feasible it must have satisfactory wind speeds at the site. The SEAI wind atlas for Ireland provides good approximate wind speed information but financiers will require site measurements to be taken for usually between 9 and 24 months.
- Planning approval should be sought for a wind mast (wind masts are exempt under certain conditions)
- Ground conditions will need to be assessed to ensure that they are suitable for wind turbine foundations.
- Access roads will need to be examined to identify their suitability to service a project of this scale.
- The cost for the grid connection can be a determining factor for the feasibility so possible routes to the connection point should be outlined and evaluated.
The developer should at this stage enter into dialogue both with the local planners and with the local communities. The developer can agree the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or other studies with the planners and can address any fears or questions that the local community may have with respect to the wind farm. It may be a good idea to involve the local community in the project more directly by offering them the opportunity to invest in the project.
If a project is deemed viable, a developer may concentrate on the detailed assessment.
- The results of the wind speed monitoring will determine the wind profile from which the appropriate turbine can be selected for the project.
- The EIS will examine the visual and landscape assessment to assist with the layout and scale of the site and identify the zone of visual influence.
- The EIS will also assess ecology, archaeology, architecture, hydrology, electro-magnetic interference, safety, construction, decommissioning and traffic management. Where possible, details of the electrical connection should be included.
- The EIS should also include the positive impacts that the project will deliver - the effects on the local economy and the contribution to the global environment. It is a public document so evidence of public consultation will be most useful also.
The processing of the planning application will be undertaken in conjunction with the regulations set out in the Planning Act. The developer must be prepared to answer any further queries that might arise from the planning authorities in relation to the specific details of the application.
Additional commitments made by the developer to mitigate potential adverse impacts are viewed positively and can help to grow confidence in the project. Depending on the size and nature of the project, planning authorities may wish to impose conditions on the development ranging from limited monitoring of different aspects of the development after it's commissioning to the regulation of construction transport access.
Wind farms must be treated similarly to other construction projects, and a site manager must be identified to the planning authorities.
- All contractors must adhere to professional standards and to conditions set out in the planning process.
- Even though the construction may take place on as little as 2-4% of the site, measures should be taken to avoid unnecessary impacts outside of the working boundaries.
- Access should be restricted to construction personnel during this time but due regard must be paid to public paths and rights of way.
- Formal procedures should be put in place to deal with queries and comments from the general public.
- The site manager should appoint an individual to be accessible to the local community to allow for dialogue and communication and to keep the public informed about the progress of the project.
When the wind farm becomes operational it remains the responsibility of the owner and operator of the wind farm to maintain the turbines and the site in general. No business enterprise will succeed without continual careful maintenance and a wind farm is no exception.
- Any conditional monitoring agreed at the planning stage must be adhered to.
- The information from this can be used to improve the operation of the specific wind farm or assist the wind industry and planning process going forward.
- The dialogue and consultation process initiated at the construction phase should continue for the working life of the wind farm.
At the end of it's working life the wind farm site will be required to be returned as closely as practical to it's original state. This is much easier for wind projects than other power generation plants.
Plans for decommissioning should be outlined at the planning stage and ensure that it will take place in a responsible manner. The scrap value from the turbines should be more than sufficient to cover such costs.
Pitfalls: How to Avoid Them
- Poorly drafted contracts for construction and the supply of equipment
- Use standard contracts; clearly define project cost and operating responsibilities, with the consent and agreement of each of the parties concerned
- Lack of professional advice, especially at the planning stage
- Hire a recognised experienced independent consultant, at least for the feasibility study before embarking on the construction phase
- A short-term view means poor choices in the beginning (poor assessment of expected energy production and often poor selection of material), resulting in low efficiency and additional expenditure to solve the problem.
- Make sure the site study and characteristics of the scheme are at a sufficiently advanced stage to proceed to the construction phase.