Northern Ireland’s membership group and voice of the renewable electricity industry RenewableNI has issued a stark assessment of the Department for Infrastructure’s consultation on its Revised Regional Strategic Planning Policy: Renewable and Low Carbon Energy.

RenewableNI Director Steven Agnew says that as drafted, the revised policy will effectively kill off any chance of meeting the requirement for 80% renewable electricity by 2030 in the NI Climate Change Act.  Two central issues, the direction for solar developments to be on  brownfield sites  and overly restrictive minimum set-back distances between wind turbines and dwellings are deeply problematic.

“Planning policy will play a key role in delivering climate targets yet we are watching with envy GB and RoI power ahead with significant investment programmes which will leave Northern Ireland behind,” says Mr Agnew. “Northern Ireland has in fact seen a considerable downturn in renewable development in recent years and these proposals do not do enough to help us turn the corner. ”

“One central issue is the proposed adoption of a X10 rotor diameter separation distance from dwellings. This is the current policy and DfI’s intention is to retain it,” says Mr Agnew.

“Rotor diameters of modern onshore turbines are 100m+ so that means you couldn’t have a windfarm within 1km of a house.  NI has so many single dwellings in the countryside that this rules out a lot of land.  A council in Ireland tried to introduce something similar but the court found that it was such an inhibitor to meeting climate obligations that it was illegal.”

“There is already a minimum 500m setback distance, as well noise and flicker policies that mean you have to be clear of houses.  The x10 RD constraint seems wholly gratuitous.”

RenewableNI also takes issue with solar farms being directed to previously developed land or brownfield sites.

“We reject the proposal to set a preference for planners to encourage and support solar projects on brownfield sites,” says Mr Agnew. “This will have a negative impact on the Northern Ireland consumer.  Non-agricultural land, usually called ‘brownfield’ sites are more expensive due to their strategic location which will drive up the cost for developers, and therefore for consumers.

“While the wording may say planners should be encouraged to accept brownfield locations, we know that will result on greenfield site applications being refused.”

To meet our future energy needs, there is great potential for solar rooftop sites, but 63 per cent of the solar demand will need to come from large scale ground mounted soar farms.  That means solar farm sites will have to be over 150 acres. It’s unlikely sufficient brownfield sites that would be of this scale that have not already been earmarked for major commercial development.”

Planning timelines are a central concern as developers in Northern Ireland continue to face planning waits that far exceed those in GB and Ireland.

“While there is a statutory target for each council to process major development planning applications with 26 weeks, renewable projects typically face upwards of 160 weeks. This is no longer tolerable.”

The planning policy consultation closes on Friday June 30 at 5pm.  You will be able to read RenewbleNI’s consultation response after the deadline on the Policy page.

ENDS.

For media inquiries please contact Judith Rance, Communications and Events Manager, RenewableNI, Judith.Rance@RenewableNI.com, 07875-681-794.