Blog: Draft Revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines

18 Mar 2020

The Wind Energy Development Guidelines (WEDGs) were issued for public consultation in December and comprised of just over 600 pages of Christmas reading, writes Clíona O’SullivanHead of Development, innogy (Ireland)

The new draft is an update to the 2006 Wind Energy Planning Guidelines, which were the subject of a “Focused Review” undertaken 2013/14 in respect of noise, visual amenity setback and shadow flicker. However, that consultation exercise, which attracted some 7,497 written responses, did not produce a new set of guidelines and the 2006 version remains in force.

A Preferred Draft Approach was published in June 2017 as a joint effort between the Minister for Housing Planning and Local Government and the Minister for Communications Climate Action and the Environment. This included revised high-level proposals in respect of matters covered in the review and also included reference to community dividend, community consultation obligations and grid connections.

Some two and a half years later, the new draft guidelines include, as expected, revised guidance on matters addressed in 2013/14 and 2017 and also incorporate new additions in respect of updated guidance on Landscape Assessment, Ecological Habitats and Heritage Assessment, Environmental Management, Repowering and Renewal, which are understood to be included largely on the basis of scoping submissions from key consultees in February and October 2018 as part of the SEA process.

Minister Eoghan Murphy acknowledges in his own foreword that the aim of the Guidelines is to “strike a better balance between addressing the concerns of local communities in relation to wind farm proposals, whilst maintaining Ireland’s ability to deliver on its binding energy policy obligations”.

It is the view of the IWEA Working Group that the guidelines do not find an appropriate balance between these two priorities and that there is a notable lack of data and robust analysis in key areas which would be required to fulfil this aim.

Nowhere within the suite of documents published, in particular within the SEA, is there an assessment of the impact of the revised guidance in reducing future onshore wind development potential nor is there a corresponding assessment of the impact on Irelands CO2 emission reduction targets. Overall, the target of 8.2 GW of onshore wind installed by 2030 in the Climate Action Plan (CAP) is at significant risk.


It is worth noting at the outset that an independent group of expert acousticians – each of whom are members of the Institute of Acoustics (IOA) – have submitted and made publicly available a joint consultation response highlighting their significant concerns regarding “technical errors, ambiguities and inconsistencies” within the content of the of the draft guidelines. The group also highlights the importance of having “further detailed interactive consultation prior to the publication of the finalised guidelines.”

Following a detailed examination of the draft revised guidelines our Working Group’s acoustic experts identified and documented 309 technical errors and practical concerns and these are outlined in detail in our consultation submission.

In respect of the proposed noise limit, the new guidelines introduces a “Relative Rated Noise Limit” (RRNL) and whilst it is difficult to precisely identify within the draft document, the basic structure of the limit is understood by the Working Group to be such that wind farm noise is limited to a level of 5dB (A) above background. This is subject to a lower limit value of 35 dB LA90 and an upper limit value of 43 dB LA90. There is no reasoning, justification or quantitative analysis provided in respect of any part of this limit.

A detailed comparative acoustic assessment undertaken on 10 sample sites of this proposed limit versus the limit stipulated in the existing guidelines shows an additional predicted curtailment requirement which would result in an average loss of 10 per cent of total annual energy production. To put this into context, a recent study commissioned by IWEA estimates that increased curtailment of this level equates to an additional cost to the consumer of €2.7 billion over 25 years to deliver the 4 GW of onshore wind required in the Government’s Climate Action Plan..

The key recommendation of the Working Group is for the Government to appropriately and fully adopt the established and peer reviewed methodology contained in the UK’s ETSU-R-97 Guidance on the Assessment and Rating of Noise from Windfarms, together with the 2013 IOA Good Practice Guide on the application of ETSU.

Visual Amenity Setback

The new guidelines stipulate a “4 times height to blade tip” setback from the nearest point of the curtilage of any residential property. The key recommendation of Working Group is that the setback requirement can be complied with, however the definition of where setback is measured must change. The reference to “curtilage” should be removed and instead the global industry norm be applied of measuring from the building to a turbine tower. This would remove any uncertainty when implementing the setback requirement. It is also recommended that lower setback should be allowed for those financially involved in the project.

Shadow flicker

The draft guidelines stipulate a zero-shadow flicker requirement together with quite onerous control and shutdown response requirements, which if implemented will be the strictest in Europe. It is our viewthat a zero-shadow flicker requirement can be complied with, subject to incorporation of some essential clarifications. Given that turbine blades rotate at high speed, it is proposed that a slowing-down period of a few minutes (technology dependent) is permitted to allow for safe and efficient shutdown once flicker is detected. The study area to measure and assess the potential for shadow flicker should be limited to 10 times the rotor diameter or a maximum distance of 1.5 km. Financially involved properties should be exempt from zero shadow flicker requirements.

 Repowering and Renewal

By 2025, almost 1,500 MW of today’s installed onshore wind capacity will be aged 15 years or more and would be actively considering repowering or renewal. We believe the proposed new guidance and limits put such projects at risk and are a serious threat to Ireland’s decarbonisation targets.
Furthermore the proposals are not considered to be in line with the EU Clean Energy Package, specifically the Renewable Energy Directive Article 15 which requires that “ national rules concerning the authorisation, certification and licensing procedures that are applied …are proportionate and necessary “ and Article 16 which requires that member states “shall facilitate the repowering of existing renewable energy plants by ensuring a simplified and swift permit-granting process”.

The Working Group strongly recommends that the department should direct local authorities to take a flexible and pragmatic approach to repowering and renewal project planning applications and to exercise discretion in light of their strategic importance to the 2030 targets.

Other Areas Addressed

We have also urged the department to address other areas including: 

  • Grid Connections where flexibility on route and type are an essential requirement and, most importantly, grid connection and wind farm planning permissions must be severable;
  • Planning Policy where there is a distinct need to adopt a regional approach and to clarify interacting policy hierarchy, most notably harmonisation with the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies published by Ireland’s three Regional Assemblies and the draft Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework;
  •  Community Engagement where the proposals are supported, however an updated Code of Practice is required. The inclusion of a requirement for mandatory community benefit is also welcomed.
    Conclusion and Next Steps

To ensure that onshore wind can continue to play a key role in Ireland’s decarbonisation process, whilst striking a balance that respects local communities, significant work is required from both departments to address the significant concerns we identified. The IWEA Working Group looks forward to further engagement to progress and inform the drafting of finalised Wind Energy Development Guidelines.