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Outdated planning threatens 20% of Ireland’s wind energy capacity

Ireland’s wind energy sector has issued a warning that many of the nation's wind farms are at significant risk of closure before the decade ends unless the Government urgently reforms the planning system.

This potential shutdown would lead to a loss of about 20% of Ireland’s installed wind energy capacity, hinder the achievement of the Climate Action Plan targets, and increase the country’s dependence on energy imports.

The alert coincides with the release of a new report by Wind Energy Ireland, titled "Repowering Ireland: How we stay global leaders in onshore wind energy", created in collaboration with planning and environmental consultancy MKO.

The report reveals that up to 76 wind farms, with a combined capacity of 854 MW, will see their planning permissions expire between now and 2030. Without the ability to extend these permissions or repower, these farms will face decommissioning. This scenario would lead to higher carbon emissions, elevated electricity prices, increased reliance on imported fossil fuels, and greater threats to energy security.

Noel Cunniffe, CEO of Wind Energy Ireland, emphasized that the end of a wind farm’s planning permission should not mean it must cease operations. He pointed out that Ireland’s oldest wind farm, now 32 years old, continues to produce power. Many threatened wind farms could operate for another five to ten years or more.

Cunniffe stressed the need for facilitating the extension of planning permissions for wind farm operators. He also called for new Wind Energy Guidelines, to be published by year-end, to prevent similar issues in the future. He argued that decommissioning operational wind farms due to outdated, evidence-lacking planning restrictions is unwarranted during concurrent climate and energy crises.

Proposed solutions

Wind Energy Ireland has outlined several recommendations to preserve Ireland’s leadership in onshore wind energy and ensure ongoing secure, affordable power for Irish households and businesses.

Firstly, the organization suggests simplifying the process for operational wind farms to obtain extended planning permissions. Traditionally, most wind farms in Ireland have planning conditions limiting their operational lifespan to 20-25 years. Extending these permissions involves a costly and uncertain application process.

Wind Energy Ireland argues that wind farms should be allowed to continue operating beyond their initial planning permissions. They also propose that the upcoming Wind Energy Guidelines should extend the planning permission duration for onshore wind farms to 50 years, in line with the operational lifetime for a wind farm’s grid connection required by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU).


Secondly, the government should establish policies to support repowering—replacing old turbines with new, more efficient ones while reusing existing grid infrastructure. For instance, a project in Barnesmore, Co Donegal, plans to repower a 15 MW wind farm by replacing 25 turbines with 13 modern turbines capable of generating 60-70 MW, thus producing more power with fewer turbines.

EU law favors granting planning permission for repowering, a stance that should be reflected in the new Planning and Development Bill 2023.

Urgent Government action required

Cunniffe stressed the urgency of government action, stating that the Irish planning process is a significant obstacle to decarbonizing the electricity system and achieving energy independence. He warned that without prioritizing the report's recommendations, Ireland might be decommissioning more wind farms than it is connecting by the late 2020s.

He called on the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage to address the issues highlighted in the report promptly, emphasizing that failure to do so would be a conscious decision to ignore the pressing need for policy changes.

Cunniffe concluded that both the government and the industry must collaborate to implement solutions, change policies, and rapidly deploy the renewable energy necessary to provide clean, affordable, and secure energy to the Irish people.


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