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Solar panels casting more shadows then sunshine on Government's Climate Credentials

16 Feb 2022

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to end constant delays and immediately remove the requirement for schools to have planning permission in order to install solar panels [1]. Today Wednesday 16th of February at 15.30 the Green Party’s Solar Panel Bill [2] will be discussed at Committee Stage in the Seanad [3]. This Bill seeks to remove planning restrictions [4] for the installation of solar panels on public buildings, including schools. This follows vague comments by the Taoiseach in the Dáil yesterday that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien had assured him that steps will be taken “in the next two or three weeks”. Notwithstanding these developments, there remains no clear sign of progress.

Jerry Mac Evilly Head of Policy
at Friends of the Earth stated:
“For more than three years now successive Governments have failed to update planning regulations to support solar on schools, despite several commitments. And in the past year the Minister of State for Planning and Local Government and the Department of Housing have repeatedly ignored deadlines without explanation and ignored the Green Party’s Seanad Bill .
We have to remember that this is a basic change that enjoys universal public and political support. The repeated changing of messages and timelines makes a mockery of the Government’s commitment to improved coordination and accountability on climate action. While the introduction of the Green Party’s Seanad Bill seemed like a positive step last summer, we have had no indication over the past 8 months that it has been taken seriously by Government - the opposite in fact.

The Climate Action Plan published last December included yet another, delayed deadline for changing the regulations - stating that they would be changed in Q1 of 2022. But this new deadline was almost immediately dismissed, with the Department of Housing producing yet another delayed timeline of later in Spring 2022 just a weeks later. There appears to be little to no leadership on the issue with the result that schools are hit with high costs of securing planning permission for even a single solar panel.

The Taoiseach’s latest comments, while supportive, have not changed the situation. Our understanding is that the next step is a consultation on an environmental assessment which is likely to be released in 3 weeks. Friends of the Earth remains extremely concerned at the lack of progress and clarity and is calling on the Minister for Housing to commit to a clear date for when the updated planning regulations will come into force. Anything less merely amounts to yet more embarrassing and unacceptable dithering and delay.

ENDS

Notes

  1. 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. The planning regulations also restrict the number and size of panels that can be put on homes and businesses.
  2. Planning and Development (Solar Panels for Public Buildings, Schools, Homes and Other Premises) (Amendment) Bill 2021 (Bill 88 of 2021). https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2021/88/ The Bill introduces planning exemptions to the Planning and Development Regulations, which will allow for the installation of solar panels on public buildings, including schools, without planning permission. It aims to reduce the barriers associated with solar panel installation, including the employment of architects in advance of installation, the submission of multiple planning applications and limitations surrounding ground mounted solar panels.
  3. The second stage debate will take place in the Seanad on Wed 16 February at 15.30
  4. The Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (as amended) address 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 and have not been updated for solar panels.

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