Solar projects must learn lessons from opposition to wind farms

Conference hears State’s ‘green branding’ is ‘evaporating before our eyes’ due to emissions

The benefits of solar energy need to be seen in communities or else there is a risk that large projects will face opposition similar to that encountered by onshore wind farms, a conference has heard.

Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) chairman David Maguire told the organisation's annual conference there was a need for community involvement in solar energy projects but this should not be "green washing".

Providing roof-top solar panels in schools would enable communities to see tangible benefits and the resulting long-term energy savings should go directly to the schools, he suggested.

Mr Maguire confirmed hundreds of solar energy projects were in the planning pipeline – representing investment of more than €1 billion but there was no clear route to market or policy framework for the energy generated, and accessing the electricity grid was difficult and expensive. However, the Government is finalising a renewable electricity support scheme (RESS), he noted.


Photovoltaic solar power was the only renewable energy technology that could quickly close the gap in Irish renewable energy targets, and help reduce carbon emissions, he said. Enabling this would create 7,000 direct jobs, save the exchequer €210 million a year, and maintain Ireland’s attractiveness for foreign investment.

He warned, however, that the “green branding [of Ireland] is evaporating before our eyes” because of the State’s lack of progress in addressing climate change.

With a shortfall predicted on targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, there was a prospect of annual fines of up to €420 million facing Ireland, he said. "As a taxpayer, I'm really concerned about that."

Dividing communities

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said wind energy lessons needed to be heeded as large solar projects could be a recipe for dividing communities if not approached correctly.

There was a global move to achieve 100 per cent power generation from renewable energy sources this century, he said, but he sensed some in the administrative side of Government did not believe the game was over for fossil fuels.

Nick Holman, of the energy company BNRG Renewables, said foreign investment in Ireland would be under threat if the State did not have adequate supplies of electricity generated from renewable energy sources.

While the provision of data centres for companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft was a success story for Ireland, many multinationals were "now demanding 100 per cent renewable electricity", he added. Ireland was not in a position to supply that demand – if it wasn't able to do so in the near future it would be "a disincentive for FDI", he added.

Mr Holman said solar energy could step in and fill the obvious gap on delivering on climate change targets and the provision of renewable electricity.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he wanted to "do more" to unlock the potential of renewable energy sources, move away from fossil fuels and help deliver greater security of supply in Ireland.

He addressed the conference in Croke Park in a pre-recorded video, saying the economic case for renewables was clear. “We must ensure Ireland has the capacity, infrastructure and resources to meet future demand. The cost of doing nothing is far too great.”

The Government was focusing on honouring climate commitments in the National Mitigation Plan. “Climate change is one of the most crucial challenges facing Ireland today. The Government is putting the green agenda and sustainability at the centre of everything we do.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times