Solar farms won’t get their day in the sun for some time

Planning for solar farms is being “kept under review”, the minister with responsibility for planning Simon Coveney has said, amid growing concerns about the lack of national guidelines.

Cork and Kerry and counties in the South-East are being targeted by energy companies planning solar farms.

An Bord Pleanála said applications for solar farms which generally occupy flat, agricultural land are only beginning to come before the board for decision in small numbers.

Current appeals include a solar farm plan near Listowel which was turned down by Kerry County Council and a similar decision taken by Meath County Council.

An Bord Pleanála said applications were not confined to the sunny south-west and south-east areas and not all applications were confined to flat plains.

Solar energy projects, however, have strong backing due to their renewable qualities.

A spokesman for the board indicated consultation with international and particularly UK experts was continuing.

In a reply to a Dáil question by Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, the minister said he believed the planning code was “sufficiently robust” to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments.

However, Mr Coveney said the matter will be kept under review in consultation with other inter-department bodies such as the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

An explosion of windfarm projects has added to public concerns and scepticism in Kerry about solar farm applications.

Cork County Council, meanwhile, tabled a motion urging the Government to put all solar farm projects on hold until national guidelines are in place.

In Kerry, six applications were lodged in 2016 on small farms with up to 30 acres.

Cllr Mike Kennelly urged county planners to defer applications until the Government had given a direction.

“These developments could have a huge impact on the environment, particularly in rural areas,” he said, “they can be located anywhere in Kerry at the moment.”

Councillors in Kerry were advised its planners were examining British guidelines along planning decisions by An Bord Pleanála.

Mr Coveney, meanwhile, said while there were no specific planning guidelines in place in respect of solar farms, proposals for individual solar farm developments were subject to the statutory requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

In making decisions on planning applications, he said planning authorities and the appeals board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the development plan, any submissions or observations received and relevant ministerial or government policies.

“Planning authorities must then make their own decision based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new subsidy support scheme for renewable electricity by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is expected to be published late 2017.


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