Offaly wind strategy: 2km buffer zone agreed by councillors

A wind strategy for Offaly that is part of a draft county development plan set for public display later this month is to stipulate that industrial wind turbines be erected no closer than two kilometres from villages, settlements and EU designated areas such as the Slieve Blooms and Shannon Callows.

The two kilometre minimum buffer zone was agreed by councillors at a meeting last night (Monday), after lengthy in committee negotiations that ran through the day.

The new agreements form part of a development plan for Offaly covering up until the year 2020.

Speaking on the issue Fianna Fail councillor John Foley said the setback distance is something that must be put in to the county’s next development plan.

“We represent the people out there,” he said. “We have to bring their voices in here.”

Councillors also tried to include a height and rotor diameter limit for single turbines allowed outside of areas in the county designated as suitable for wind energy development that are connected to schools, hospitals or other community-based premises, in a bid to prevent commercial interests “piggy-backing” on such turbines.

Offaly planner Eoghan Lynch explained that the exemption currently in place is for single turbines however, and will leave no place for larger operations.

Instead of putting height and diameter restrictions in place, councillors agreed to insert a paragraph in the plan looking for supporting evidence that any proposed turbines of that nature are for schools, hospitals or community-related premises.

A suggestion that Offaly turbines be used for the domestic energy market only and not for export is not to be included in the new development plan. Planners explained that the wind strategy deals with land use policy in the county, but dictating whether wind energy is available for export or not is outside its remit.

Present at the meeting, which ran until close to 10pm last night, were members of the Rhode Parish Wind Turbine Action Group. Speaking to the Offaly Independent after the meeting Stephen Carroll from that group said what was agreed wasn’t even close to what they wanted.

“I was advocating a complete change from the old county development plan,” he said, adding that he would ideally like to see a five kilometre buffer zone put in place.

“The only thing we can hope now is to let our voices be heard through submissions when the draft plan goes on display,” he said, adding that he’s expecting something in the region of 1,000 submissions on the issue from locals.

Offaly County Council will meet on Thursday next, October 3 at 10am to finalise the remainder of the county development plan.