Solar energy firms are seeking state subsidies of €25m per year to kickstart power generation on a mass scale using the sun’s rays.
The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) says the money would enable 70,000 households and 2,200 businesses produce their own power and generate 7% of national electricity needs within six years, while providing 7,300 jobs in the process.
According to the association, the financial supports sought would add €19 to the average household’s electricity bill each year, far less than the €60 state levy currently added annually to domestic electricity bills, mainly to support wind and peat energy.
It argues that with resistance to wind farms growing and peat-burning power plants increasingly falling out of favour in the search for clean energy solutions, the time has come to stump up for solar.
Ireland is expected to fall short of EU targets of producing 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and could face fines of €300m per year until the target is achieved.
ISEA chairman David Maguire said in 2014 just 23% of the country’s electricity was generated from a mix of wind, hydro, and biomass sources, and in the same year, 85% of energy requirements had to be imported, and coal-powered electricity production increased by close to 20%.
“It is clear the country is facing a real challenge to meet these targets and avoid significant fines,” he said.
“Despite the successful deployment of wind energy in Ireland, which enjoyed considerable State support, wind alone will not ensure that we reach that goal.”
He said most other EU countries had already turned to solar to ensure they met their targets and Ireland was lagging ever further behind.
“We are ready to deploy immediately and just need a support mechanism similar to that afforded to other technologies in order to kick-start the sector.”
Some 400 planning applications have been prepared for solar projects of various types and sizes, but mainly comprising proposals to rent farmland for the installation of low-rise solar panels.
Mr Maguire said the average ‘solar farm’ needed to be around 25 acres to be viable and most applications had been prepared for the south and south-east of the country, in particular in Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Wexford.
He said he anticipated little public opposition to them once they were lodged. “The panels are just 2.5m high so they’re low visibility, they have no moving parts, they make no noise, they create no emissions and they’re designed to absorb the sun, not reflect it, so there’s no glare.
“You install them, let sheep graze around them, plant a hedge around them and it’s hard to even see them.”
Mr Maguire said he believed the State had been slow to support solar because it used to be an expensive technology. “Deployment costs have fallen 80% in recent years and will continue to fall 7% per year. Now is the time to start installing.”
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