Dáil Éireann - Volume 565 - 09 April, 2003
Adjournment Debate. - Alternative Energy Projects.
Mr. Murphy Mr. Murphy
Mr. Murphy: Many wind farm projects will not qualify for AER VI because of unwarranted delays in the planning process caused by Dúchas. The forthcoming AER VI competition commences on 15 April and terminates on 24 April. Dúchas, the heritage service, is responsible for designating suitable areas of the country as special protection areas, SPAs, for the protection of the hen harrier under Article 4(1) of the birds directive. Broadly speaking we accept the principle of designation pertaining to areas of national importance. However, serious issues arise with the methodology used by Dúchas in relation to the lack of a clearly defined policy for designating SPAs.
I have particular concern about a number of sites identified and designated as suitable for wind farm developments under many county development plans. In these areas developers and landowners have invested significant time and resources in undertaking environmental assessments as part of the planning process and having followed all procedures, they find themselves in the unlikely position of having had planning unduly delayed due to recent developments regarding the hen harrier and the proposed designation of these areas as SPAs.
Wind farm developers and landowners in these areas are at odds to understand how areas designated as suitable for wind farm developments had not come to the attention of Dúchas prior to ratification of the county development plan. Similarly, the habitats directive does not specify a particular area of land to comply with the provisions of the directive. Nevertheless, Dúchas has adopted a blanket designation approach to areas under consideration for SPA designation. This position is completely untenable where a State organisation is introducing such a designation in the absence of proper research being conducted on the effect of such developments on the hen harrier. In the midst of this confusion planners have consequently delayed granting planning permission for these developments.
The lack of any policy on the part of Dúchas has resulted in unreasonable delays in arriving at decisions in planning for such strategic developments. I therefore strongly advise the Minister to consider the following recommendations. There should be an extension of the AER VI entry period for developers who have suffered unreasonable delays as a result of this lack of policy and direction, either at county council level or during the appeal process to an Bord Pleanála. There should be site-specific compensation for losses, which will be incurred for projects not qualifying for AER VI directly resulting from this lack of policy by Dúchas in areas zoned as having potential for wind farm developments.
The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, clearly acknow ledged in the Dáil Chamber on 1 April that mistakes have been made when he said:
I am glad the Deputy has raised this issue and I agree with much of what he said. I fully support wind farms as a source of renewable energy, which affords us great hope for the future. I have been straightforward in my response to the House on this matter. I do not see an incompatibility between special areas of conservation and. the use of wind energy. There is not an incompatibility between them.
Importantly he continued by saying:
That applies to the issue that has arisen lately with regard to the hen harrier in the south west. As Minister responsible, I regret that the communications systems that were in place were not adequate to make clear the fact we have only entered into a consultation process. Incorrect presumptions were made as to the impact of these. I am confident that we will have compatibility between wind energy, afforestation and areas of preservation.
Developers and landowners, who have made every effort to comply with all planning and legislative requirements to build wind farms within these identified strategic zones, seek only fair treatment in the process resulting from delays, which are outside their control. I urgently seek a resolution to this and strongly recommend that the Minister deal with this matter immediately given the time constraints on AER VI.
Mr. Callely Mr. Callely
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. Callely): I thank Deputy Murphy for raising this issue and I appreciate the sentiments he expressed, a number of which are correct. The Green Paper on Sustainable Energy published by the Government in 1999 recommended that a group be established to report on the impediments to the greater deployment of wind energy technology in electricity production.
In a report subsequently published by the renewable energy strategy group three key elements – electricity market, electricity network and spatial planning – were identified as needing to be integrated into a plan led approach to wind energy deployment. Among the many recommendations made by the group was a recommendation that, in the short-term, market mechanisms such as the AER process should concentrate on facilitating the development of capacity that has or can obtain the necessary authorisation in particular planning permissions. When the report was published in 2000 full planning permission had been granted to wind farms with a combined installed electricity generating capacity of more than 155 MW.
The current position indicates a significant change in the ability of wind energy projects to obtain full planning permission from local authorities and an Bord Pleanála. Currently it is esti mated that in excess of 750 MW of renewable energy projects have full planning permission. In February this year my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, launched the sixth round of the alternative energy requirement competition. The building of an additional 578 MW of new green power by the end of 2005 will meet the target set out in the Green Paper on Sustainable Energy of 500 MW of renewable energy sourced electricity by 2005 and treble the supply of green energy by the end of 2005.
The AER VI programme was launched in February and applications will be accepted in the Department from 15 to 24 April. The programme is run in accordance with European Union procurement rules. Any changes to the terms and conditions of the competition would necessitate a withdrawal of the current round and a complete re-advertisement. This would have the effect of delaying construction of plant, which is vital. In addition, as indicated earlier, there are more than sufficient projects with full planning permission to allow the AER VI round to proceed. On the wider issue of planning, the steering group felt that there was a need to review and update the planning guidelines for wind farm developments. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, has acted upon this recommendation.
The 1996 guidelines for planning authorities on wind farm development are intended to facilitate implementation of Government policy regarding the development of renewable sources of energy. They are designed to assist planning authorities in making suitable provision for wind farm development in their development plans and to ensure a consistency of approach throughout the country to the treatment of planning applications for such developments.
The guidelines are currently being reviewed in light of experience since they were issued to ensure that they continue to be relevant and useful. As part of the review, a public consultation process has been undertaken. All comments received will be taken into consideration in the preparation of revised guidelines which will be published later in the year. It is important that the revised planning guidelines address both the accommodation of wind farming and nature conservation requirements. I will ask the Department to keep the Deputy informed of developments.
Dáil Éireann 565 Adjournment Debate. Alternative Energy Projects.