The Government is to be asked to prevent the further building of solar energy farms in County Cork until proper guidelines are put in place for their design and operation.
Cork county councillors voted unanimously to send the request to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government after hearing concerns that too many are being planned and some are being located in the wrong places.
The debate in County Hall was led by members of the Bandon/Kinsale municipal district council, who cited the case of a 20-acre solar farm near Kinsale which was recently granted planning permission by the local authority.
Cllr Kevin Murphy said people living around the site were very angry at the council for granting permission, which is now being challenged through appeals to An Bord Pleanála.
He said local residents were not against renewable energy but were concerned by the scale of the project, the impact of glare and the potential devaluation of their property.
“There are national guidelines in place for wind and wave energy projects, but not for solar. We want national guidelines implemented. There are many plans in the pipeline for more solar farms,” said Cllr Murphy.
Cllr Rachel McCarthy claimed the sheer volume of wind and solar farm applications in the county would not be sustainable.
She said there were 20,000 acres of land already committed nationally to solar farm development.
Cllr McCarthy said it took time to develop regulations for windfarms, somewhat to the detriment of some communities, and she did not want to see a situation where there would be regrets in years to come because there were not similar regulations in place for solar farms.
Cllr Frank O’Flynn said: “I can see applications for solar farms which are proposed for the best of land. They should be located on marginal land.”
Cllr Alan Coleman described the current number of solar farm applications as “frightening”.
“It’s very important we control where they are placed. People living in rural areas have to be protected,” he added.
Gllr Gillian Coughlan said: “It’s a damning indictment of the department that they haven’t put guidelines in place.” She agreed with Cllr O’Flynn that solar farms should only be erected on marginal land.
Cllr Gerard Murphy pointed out that the country was obliged to have 40% of its electricity produced from renewable sources by 2020 and that was going to be challenging to achieve.
However, he said while he welcomed the use of more renewable energy, guidelines for solar farms needed to be produced as soon as possible.
Cllr Paul Hayes pointed out that he is a member of Sunstainability Clonakilty, an organisation which promotes green energy, but said “there’s a gaping hole” in regulating the solar sector.
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said he was satisfied his planning department staff were able to deal with solar farm applications properly, even without guidelines being issued by the department.
After the debate, Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Seamus McGrath, said they would write to the department and seek a ban on solar farm projects until proper guidelines are drawn up.
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