Community group warns of uncontrolled solar farm development

Ireland lacks guidelines to deal with solar farm planning applications, says campaigner

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney:  a Co Cork community group has criticised him for failing to introduce legislation for large-scale solar farms. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney: a Co Cork community group has criticised him for failing to introduce legislation for large-scale solar farms. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A Co Cork community group has criticised Minister for Planning Simon Coveney for failing to introduce legislation for large-scale solar farms.

Jagoes Mills Action Group, which represents residents living near Kinsale in Co Cork, said a failure to legislate would lead to the uncontrolled development of the sector in Ireland and problems for communities across the State.

Aoife Carlin, spokeswoman for the group, said more than 100 applications for large-scale solar developments had been submitted to local authorities and some 20,000 acres of agricultural land were in contract to solar developers by last October.

She said that despite the obvious expansion of the sector, the Department of Planning was “not only failing to plan for the development of a solar industry in Ireland, but failing to even acknowledge the need for legislative change”.

Ms Carlin said the action group had lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála against a decision by Cork County Council to grant permission to Green Mills Energy for a 5MW solar power plant on a 32-acre site at Farrangalway near Kinsale.

Other jurisdictions

“We strongly believe if solar farm planning guidelines existed in Ireland, as they do in other jurisdictions, this site of prime agricultural land in a rural residential community would be deemed unsuitable for such development.”

An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the project in February despite its own inspector recommending refusal and noting there was “a lack of guidance at national, regional and local level in relation to the appropriate location, scale and distribution of future proposals for solar power”.

Planning inspector Kenneth Moloney pointed out that the project was of significant scale and given that it is located in a primarily agricultural area, he said he believed it would seriously injure “the amenities of the area” and properties in the vicinity.

Ms Carlin said the action group recognised Ireland’s responsibility to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement and fully supported efforts to do so. However, it was genuinely concerned about the lack of guidelines and regulations in the solar energy sector.

Aggressive growth

“We fear the failure of the Government and local councils to act with respect to planning guidelines, combined with the aggressive pace of applications from solar developers, is resulting and will continue to result in incoherent and uncontrolled development of the solar energy sector in Ireland.”

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Coveney said that while there are no specific guidelines in place in respect of solar farms, proposals for individual developments were subject the statutory requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

“I am satisfied that the planning code is sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments,” he said.

The Minister added the matter would be kept under review in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, which has responsibility for Ireland’s renewable energy policy.