Distance to residences

Distance to residences

Legislation does not provide for the minimum distance between wind turbines and residences. However, it has regularly been claimed in public debate that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health would recommend a minimum distance of two kilometres between wind turbines and holiday or permanent residences. However, this is based on a misunderstanding. The “setback distance of two kilometres” has remained a live claim as a result of a statement on the phased regional land use plan for wind power for South-West Finland issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in 2013 on the basis of incorrect interpretation of guidelines provided in the United Kingdom. Since then, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has corrected its position and stated that there is no reason to comply with any categorical distance limit. Notwithstanding, a few municipalities have decided that wind turbines must not be planned at a certain distance from residences. Due to the planning monopoly, municipalities can freely determine on land use in their areas although there are no legal stipulations with regard to minimum distances.


How is the relationship between residences and wind power approached in legislation as there are no specified minimum distances? The idea is to take into account the impacts of wind turbines, especially noise and the shadow flicker caused by the rotating blades, already in the planning stage. As a rule, the building of wind turbines requires a plan, which is subject to the Land Use and Building Act (132/1999) that stipulates that the impacts of the plan must be assessed to a sufficient extent in order to reconcile the needs of land use. In most cases, to implement a wind power project, a local master plan is drawn up in accordance with section 77a of the Land Use and Building Act that governs the building of wind power. Therefore, in addition to meeting the general content requirements laid down in legislation, it is necessary to make sure that the local master plan guides the building and other use of the areas to a sufficient extent and that the planned wind power construction and other land use conform with the landscape and the environment. This required, among others, an assessment of noise impacts and taking them into account.

With respect to the noise of wind power, a separate Government Decree on guide values for the outdoor noise level of wind turbines (1107/2015) was issued in 2015. In addition, in terms of indoor noise, the decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on health-related conditions of housing and other residential buildings and qualification requirements for third-party experts (545/2015) shall also be complied with. The decree on the noise level of wind power lays down the guide values for planning that must be taken into account, for example, when drawing up a component master plan. These guide values for noise levels, concerning residential and holiday homes, are 45 dB in daytime and 40 dB at night-time. As it is a question of operations that are still under plan, the noise impacts are basically assessed on the basis of planning data and modelling. The Environmental Administration guidelines on the modelling of wind turbine noise (2/2014) are consistently complied with in modelling procedures and, for example, the guidelines take a position on the type of initial data that modelling must be based on. When a plan that enables a wind power project is drawn up so that the noise impacts estimated through modelling remain within the guide values, in principle, the plan meets the requirements of the Land Use and Building Act in that respect.

The planning guide values according to the decree are not limit values that restrict operations, but their purpose is to guide land use planning so that the operation of wind turbines will not cause such disturbing impacts that it would be necessary to regulate the operation of wind turbines with an environmental permit at a later date. Therefore, wind turbines are not required to have an environmental permit directly by law as the need for a permit is determined on the basis of possible impacts. However, if an environmental permit is required, the preconditions for granting a permit must be examined on the basis of impact assessments and in relation to guide values laid out in the decree. It is a precondition for granting an environmental permit that, taking the provisions in the permit and the location of the operations into account, the operations will not cause adverse health impacts or unreasonable burden referred to in the Adjoining Properties Act. If the impacts of the operations remain within the guide values according to the government decree, the noise impacts do not pose a health risk or unreasonable burden referred to in legislation, in which case the preconditions for granting the permit are met in this respect.

Issues concerning the location are decided separately for each project

According to legislation, therefore, the location of residences and wind power must be examined on the basis of the impacts. The justification based on impact has also been confirmed in the legal practice of the Supreme Administrative Court where, on one hand, it has been stated that the guide values direct both the planning of land use and the consideration of environmental permits and, on the other hand, it confirms that assessment must be based on the estimated impacts of the project, not on the experience of individual people. This is well illustrated by the yearbook decision KHO 290/2019 concerning environmental permits, as well as by the decision KHO 290/2019 concerning the component master plan for wind power. In the yearbook decision, the Supreme Administrative Court states that the objective of the guide values is to prevent noise nuisance in general, and it is not possible to take into account any individual differences in experiencing noise in their interpretation. In addition, the justifications for both decisions state specifically that there is no binding regulation in Finland concerning the distance of wind turbines from residences.

In this regard, in order to minimise harmful impacts, the impacts of wind power, especially its noise impacts, must be assessed and taken into account as much as possible in the planning of land use when different operations are reconciled. Issues concerning the location of wind turbines are decided separately for each project as confirmed in legal practice. The planned location in relation to residences is part of the initial data for assessment, and therefore a sufficient distance in terms of residences will be assessed as part of the impact assessment of the project. In other words, there is no generic rule with regard to the minimum distance between residences and wind turbines.