Setback Distances from Wind Turbines / Wind Farms

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Due to a huge number of submissions from rural homeowners and the wind industry, new guidelines stipulating where wind farms can be built were not published last year.

According to the Department of the Environment, over 7,500 submissions were received following the publication of draft guidelines at the end of last year. The guidelines focused around noise from turbines, proximity to dwellings and shadow flicker. “Not enough” said the communities, “Too much” said the wind industry.

The mood and background to this debate has certainly swung against the wind industry with a considerable amount of peer-reviewed research confirming the health hazards associated with living near wind turbines, both in terms of noise and flicker. See my previous blog – “Wind farm victims vindicated”. The wind industry has responded to this meticulous research with the usual hyperbole and assertion, all unsupported by any peer-reviewed research of its own.

A new draft of the Guidelines is due to be released within the next two weeks. Minister Coffey has been recently criticised for his pro-wind utterances and his incorrect use of data. More specifically, an open letter was sent to the Minister:

Dear Minister Paudie Coffey,
I refer to your Parliamentary Question response on the 17th of February 2015 where you misinterpreted both the Deputy Chief Medical Officer’s original overview (Nov ’13) on the impacts of wind turbines on human health and the contents of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) further statement dated the 11th of February 2015. (See correspondence to Dr. Bonner below).
As you are aware, what the Australian NHMRC report actually states is:
 
“The parallel evidence assessed suggests that there are unlikely to be any significant effects on physical or mental health at distances greater than 1,500 m from wind farms.” (emphasis added)
The reason the Australian Health Council analyse distances “greater than 1,500m” is because they have set a noise limit of 35dB LAeq outside dwellings at night, which gives effect to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2007 night noise Target Recommendations for Europe.
Both the existing (2006) and proposed (Dec ’13) Wind Energy Development Guidelines in Ireland permit wind turbine noise levels quadruple that of WHO’s recommended night noise target (every 3dB increase is a doubling of noise levels), and imposes noise levels identified by WHO as causing “Environmental Insomnia” and related adverse health effects.
I therefore be obliged if you would correct the Dáil record on this fundamental omission and misinterpretation.
I would also respectfully request that you support Minister Alan Kelly and Minister Alex White who have both expressed concern should the Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines not give effect to the World Health Organisation’s recommended noise target.
Not to do so will expose Irish Citizens to the well documented and uncontroverted adverse health effects identified by the World Health Organisation and is likely to risk significant State liability.
Yours sincerely,
David Reid”
The Minister would do well to heed the new findings concerning the damage to the health of people living near wind turbines. He might take a lead from his counterparts in Northern Ireland, on which the Belfast News Letter made the following report on 3 March 2015:

“A wide-ranging re-examination of the Province’s approach to wind farms has been called for by Stormont politicians.

A report from a group of MLAs said the Department of the Environment to say when enough is enough when it comes to the siting of wind farms in an area.

It found that west Tyrone had already reached “saturation point” in terms of the number of turbines spread across the landscape, and called for a clear definition of exactly what the limit should be.

It also called for a fresh look at how noise is monitored, better public engagement by developments, and how far turbines should be from homes.

At the moment, Planning Police Statement 18 simply advises only that a 500m (1,640ft) separation distance “will generally apply”.

However, when delivering the Environment Committee’s findings to the Assembly on Tuesday, chairwoman Anna Lo said that the MLAs had “agreed instead that a minimum setback distance should now be determined by the department.”

She told the Assembly that, while MLAs had considered the setting up of zones to highlight the most appropriate places for wind farms, “it was too late” for places like west Tyrone.

Ms Lo also said that the issue of noise from wind turbines had proved the most contentious aspect of their whole investigation.

She expressed concern that “there does not appear to be continuous long-term monitoring of noise from wind farms, either by developers or by the relevant public sector organisations”.

She said independent research should now be done to assess what the impact of such “low-frequency noise” is on residents within earshot.

The report – which has been about five months in the making – also makes reference to the spectacular collapse of a turbine in January on the Screggagh wind farm, between Fintona and Fivemiletown.

Jim Allister ased Ms Lo: “Would the member agree that, if that collapse which occurred in Co Tyrone had occurred at some of the large, quasi-urban sited turbines, that the consequences could have been wholly catastrophic in terms of the loss of life?”

Ms Lo agreed, and said they would be keeping a close eye on results of a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report into the incident – with the committee urging any of its recommendation to be acted on as soon as possible.

An investigation by manufacturer Nordex said the disaster was down to a “unique fault” in the system controlled its spinning blades.”

Minister Coffey, it is time for you to do the right thing. Wind farms must be built far away from people’s homes and our children’s schools. When the 2006 Guidelines were published, recommending a setback distance of 500m, wind turbine heights were on average 54m tall.  The turbines proposed for the Renewable Energy Export Project are 3.5 times as high, some 185m tall.

A useful graphic can be found at: https://twitter.com/windnoiseinfo/status/573466580832665600/photo/1

Accordingly, we should be talking about a minimum set-back distance of 1.5 km to obviate the health dangers of noise. When taking into account the flicker effect, a set-back distance of 2.00 – 3.00 km seems reasonable.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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2 Responses to Setback Distances from Wind Turbines / Wind Farms

  1. cawtdonegal says:

    Unfortunately there is no 500m setback (recommended or otherwise) in the 2006 wind energy guidelines. http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/DevelopmentandHousing/Planning/FileDownLoad,1633,en.pdf There are a few references to 500m, including:

    “In general, noise is unlikely to be a significant problem where the
    distance from the nearest turbine to any noise sensitive property
    is more than 500 metres.” (page 30)

    This section from page 30 is often quoted as the basis of a recommended setback, this is not the case. If you read further in the guidelines it is clear that the guidelines anticipate development within 500m of a home. See page 33:

    “It is recommended that shadow flicker at neighbouring
    offices and dwellings within 500m should not exceed 30 hours per
    year or 30 minutes per day”

    and also on page 85, in an incredibly outdated section on shadow flicker the guidelines state:

    “Shadow flicker is not usually critical. However, in unusual
    circumstances, where the calculations indicate that occupied
    dwelling houses would be significantly affected, a condition
    requiring the non-operation of turbines at times when predicted
    shadow flicker might adversely impact on any inhabited dwelling
    within 500m of a turbine may be appropriate.”

    It is clear that the guidelines anticipate development within 500m and that there is no recommended setback distance, despite claims to the contrary. Sadly, even if a guideline setback is set, in the revised guidelines, it would not be mandatory as I have argued here https://cawtdonegal.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/where-now-for-the-wind-energy-guidelines-after-ogrianna/

    • The point that needs to made is that as long as they are only guidelines, as opposed to mandatory Regulations, they will be flouted, whether the setback is 500 or 3000 meters. The Minister needs to enact Regulations rather than ineffectual guidelines.

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