The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) has warned of its concerns over a call to ban solar farms in Co Cork until guidelines are put in place by the Government.
The association said any ban would have repercussions for development of the industry as well as preventing the country achieving a 40% target by 2020 for producing electricity from renewable energy sources.
The ISEA made its comments in response to a recent call by county councillors to defer planning applications and ban solar farms until proper guidelines are drawn up by the Government.
The council voted to send a letter to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community, & Local Government (DHPCLG) to prevent decisions being made on any applications until planning guidelines are completed.
Councillors said they were concerned about possible effects on people living in rural areas and wanted the same type of guidelines put in place which already regulate wind and wave energy.
However, ISEA said even a temporary ban could halt new investment in vital energy infrastructure.
Its chairman David Maguire said any ban would be detrimental to Cork’s and Ireland’s capacity to meet its 40% target of electricity from renewable energy sources.
He said the current high volume of planning applications for solar farms in Cork was due to developers aiming to secure planning now so they can guarantee government support later on.
Mr Maguire argued that council planning staff have a wealth of policy and legislation they can use to refuse developments of all nature that are proposed in inappropriate locations, including solar farms. “Of the pipeline of solar projects currently in development, it is highly unlikely that all of these projects will progress, even if consented to,” he said.
The association, he said, would urge councillors to welcome the infrastructure investment along with the local employment and economic opportunities solar development will bring.
“Calling for a ban sends a negative message to an emerging industry that it is providing sustainable employment opportunities for local communities.
“Solar projects represent an ideal opportunity for farmers to both increase and diversify their income. Further, the Government is behind solar. ‘A Programme for a Partnership Government’ states that, ‘the development of solar energy projects should be facilitated (not discouraged or blocked), as well as noting that solar has the potential to provide a community dividend.’ These community benefits could be denied if the council’s request is granted,” Mr Maguire noted
He said the ISEA understands concerns in regards to the impact of solar development and acknowledges the need for planning guidelines to address concerns.
“ISEA is keen to work with all industry stakeholders and believe that public perception is hugely important to the success of the industry. Therefore, ISEA has been engaging with planners, ecologists and archaeologists to produce recommendations for planning that will be presented to DHPCLG and also invite local councillors to engage with us.”
Mr Maguire said the association wants to emphasise that solar farms are safe, quiet, can co-exist with farming activities, present opportunities for biodiversity, offer community benefits and are easily reversible.
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