Malone O’Regan Environmental Services
Addressing regulatory challenges facing the development of Solar Farms in Ireland.
Ireland has committed to generating 16 per cent of its overall energy requirements from renewables by 2020 under the EU’s plan. If Ireland does not meet these targets, it could be hit with fines of between €100 million and €150 million for every percentage point it falls short. Currently it is reported that about 8 per cent of the country’s energy requirements comes from renewable sources.
There are increasing difficulties in securing both sites and relevant permissions for onshore wind-farms. This has opened up opportunities for other alternative energy providers such as the solar industry. The priority for solar companies to-date has been identifying amenable land owners, that are ideally located within a suitable distance of a capacity enabled, sub-station. Once secured, operators then typically concentrate on securing a grid-connection. However, such connections are rendered useless without the necessary statutory approvals.
Yet, it is this step of securing the necessary statutory approvals through the Planning and Development Regulations that is currently holding up many alternative energy projects in Ireland.
Guidance on wind farm development for both Local Authorities and developers has been issued. Unfortunately, other forms of energy supply, such as Solar, Anaerobic Digestion, CHP, are bereft of such guidance. This can result in planning applications coming under increased scrutiny from a Local Authority perspective on the basis that they may be unsure of potential impacts arising from such developments. It can also result with increased submissions from third parties leading to delays to the planning application process.
As a vastly experienced Environmental and Engineering consultancy, MOR have successfully delivered numerous large and medium scale renewable projects through the Irish planning system. We would advise that the steps that need to be undertaken to increase the potential for success of obtaining planning on such projects should include:
- Undertake a due diligence assessment on prospective sites to screen out sites where significant environmental and engineering constraints may present a challenge at planning stage. In the event that certain issues such as a protected archaeological site is identified as this early stage, it may result in the site no longer being viable, but at least a decision can be made before any significant investment has been made.
- Once a suitable site has been identified, undertake a screening exercise so the planning application can be focused on the key issues. Solar PV currently is not listed under Schedule 5 of the Planning and Development Act requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), therefore to-date no solar farm developments regardless of scale has needed an EIS.
- Undertake pre-planning consultation with the Planning Authority and other key stake-holders, as applicable, in advance of lodging a planning application. In the absence of guidance these consultations should also be used as an opportunity to inform the Planners about the development. For example, a lot of Planning Authorities are seeking “Glint and Glare Reports” for solar projects without fully understanding what they involve, or the meaning of the results.
- Consult with Local Residents to alleviate any potential concerns that they may have, in order to ensure that any such concerns can be addressed as part of the design.
- Submit a high quality planning application.
From a policy perspective, if the Government wish to meet their renewables target then the timely preparation of Planning Guidance Documents for Renewable Energy would go a long way to streamlining the Planning Process.