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Solar Bill a Ray of Sunshine in a Shady State of Affairs

28 Jun 2021

Friends of the Earth
For immediate release
Thursday 28th June 2021

After years of dithering and delay, Green Party’s Seanad Bill must be supported to ensure solar for homes, schools and businesses

Today, Monday 28th of June at 7.30pm, the Green Party’s new Bill on solar panels [1] will be discussed in a second stage debate in the Seanad [2]. Current planning regulations [3] discourage and hinder installation of solar panels. Schools and public buildings must have planning permission to put up even one solar panel, resulting in significant additional costs and delays. The planning regulations also restrict the number and size of panels that can be put on homes and other buildings [4]. This new Bill removes these planning restrictions. It will open up opportunities for schools, homes and businesses to put up enough panels to let them generate some or all of their electricity and potentially sell excess electricity back to the grid.

Oisín Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth said:

“If we are to transition from climate laggard to leader, every school in Ireland should be a solar school and the Government should be actively supporting schools, homes and businesses to be part of the renewable energy transition.

The new climate law going through the Oireachtas will require a total transformation of the economy and our energy system in the next 10 years. But it has taken 3 whole years to get any progress on removing planning restrictions on solar panels. The current approach is clearly much too slow! This Solar Bill should be prioritised and supported by all parties so we can get on with the renewable transition and quit the dithering and delay.

Solar panels are becoming increasingly common and accessible across the world and planning issues have been successfully resolved in other countries. Since 2019 we have seen repeated statements from Ministers and the Department of Housing and Local Government that planning regulations would be reviewed and updated [5]. But no clear progress has been made and deadlines have been repeatedly missed despite specific commitments in the 2019 Climate Action Plan.

We were once again promised new regulations to remove planning obstacles to solar panels months ago. But now the Government has said that yet another round of analysis is necessary before these obstacles are removed [6] [7]. These repeated kicks to touch have become laughable - it’s time for the Government to take control and resolve the situation by supporting this new Solar Bill. “

Jerry Mac Evilly, Head of Policy in Friends of the Earth said:


“Ireland is a laggard when it comes to solar energy. This has nothing to do with bad weather or cost - solar panels are becoming cheaper and our long summer days are a bonus. Instead it is down to repeated failures to remove restrictions and red tape.

For the past 3 years we’ve been told that planning restrictions on solar would be reviewed and removed. Now we’re being told that solar panels on school roofs could have an impact on aircrafts, giving rise to yet another round of delays. It all sounds ridiculous, given that there is already a major solar panel installation in Dublin airport. The situation is even more galling when other European countries have addressed these issues years ago. We cannot have a situation where we are facilitating greater renewable energy at national level yet locking schools and homes out of the transition.”

ENDS


Notes.

  1. Planning and Development (Solar Panels for Public Buildings, Schools, Homes and Other Premises) (Amendment) Bill 2021 (Bill 88 of 2021). See here
  2. The second stage debate will take place in the Seanad on Monday 28 June at 19:30.
  3. The amended Planning and Development Regulations 2001 addresses exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission. SI 83/2007 and SI 235/2008 address exemptions for the installation of solar panels on homes, businesses and agriculture buildings. These regulations detail the specific conditions which must be met in order to obtain such exemptions.
  4. Planning regulations currently require planning permission for any solar panel installation on a homes or business that exceeds anything above an extremely small size and area Planning permission is required for all solar panel installations on educational or community buildings. As a result, schools and community groups have generally not invested in solar panels given the considerable time, effort and money associated with obtaining planning permission
  5. Since 2019 Ministers and the Department of Housing have repeatedly noted the need for reviews of the planning regulations before any update can be made. Previous and current Governments have committed to immediately updating the regulations following the outcome of such reviews however no detail or outcome has emerged regarding this review. There are specific commitments in this area in the 2019 Climate Action Plan, including a commitment for the Department of Housing to complete a review of the regulations in Q4 2019.
  6. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Deputy Peter Burke, unexpectedly raised an entirely new issue in 2020 regarding the potential for glint and glare at airports from solar panels and noted the need for yet further research over the course of this year before any changes regarding permission can be made. Since then, the Department has repeatedly noted analysis of this issue would be undertaken. The latest update is that this is only now starting and will take up to 9 months to complete. It is unclear how this aligns with major solar panel installation already in place at Dublin airport.
  7. The latest response from Government in June 2021 is that interim revised regulations will be introduced prior to the completion of specific measures re airports. The Department has stated that it is now necessary to undertake a full Strategic Environmental Assessment and public consultation of this proposal necessitating a further 5 months to complete. Having noted a deadline of Q1 this year, the Department has now put forward a new timeline of Q4

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