When the Greens recently presented their new solar energy bill to the Seanad for debate, they said it was “almost impossible” to install solar panels because of the current “office work”.
The planning and development (solar panels for public buildings, schools, houses and other rooms) (amendment) in 2021 will make solar-powered electricity for public buildings and farms “easier and cheaper”, according to Green Senators.
The bill will change “outdated” regulations by removing planning restrictions and allowing solar panels to be installed on public buildings without a building permit.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly, who presented the bill to the Seanad, said that while Ireland is not the sunniest country, “we have huge potential for solar energy.”
‘Easier, cheaper and faster' to install solar panels
“However, due to outdated guidelines and bureaucracy, we have very few solar panels that generate electricity,” said the Senator.
“At the moment, public buildings and schools have to obtain a building permit to install even one solar panel, and this can take months of paperwork and paperwork.
“Shops and agricultural buildings are only allowed to have very small systems, which are often insufficient to supply the building with electricity.
“This legislation is about making it easier, cheaper, and faster for buildings to install solar panels to produce free, clean, renewable electricity that is used for their electricity needs.”
According to the Greens, this bill will “reduce the barriers related to the installation of solar panels, including the employment of architects in advance of installation, the filing of multiple building applications and the restrictions on floor-mounted solar panels”.
Secretary of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, said that aside from climate considerations, allowing such buildings to produce solar energy “will lower their costs.”
“An update of this legislation would also pave the way for more solar panels on farm sheds, lowering costs for farmers and making agriculture more environmentally friendly,” added the minister.
Delays in regulation “unacceptable”
A number of senators have expressed concerns about the timeline in which the measures in the bill will be implemented.
Fine Gael Senator John Cummins said the delays caused by creating a detailed air traffic control map were “unacceptable”.
In response to concerns, Housing Minister Malcolm Noonan said that his department has already “carried out a review of solar panel exemptions” following the 2019 Climate Change Plan.
“Following this review, it is proposed to significantly increase the number of solar systems that can be installed in types of buildings to which certain exemptions already apply, including houses, commercial and industrial buildings and farm buildings referred to in this debate said Minister Noonan.
“It is also proposed to extend the scope of the exemptions to include educational, community and religious buildings as well as residential buildings, while increasing the height and area for free-standing solar systems.
“The main open issue that remains to be resolved in the current review is the potential for lightning and glare to aircraft that result from the increased use of solar panels and the need to ensure that they are not a real or potential threat to aircraft aviation represent security.
“Accordingly, my department has partnered with the Irish Aviation Authority to find a safe and workable solution to this particular aspect of the screening.
“My department has started the tendering process for this project, which involves developing air traffic control cards for every airport and airfield in the country. This will take several months.
“In view of the likely long time until the completion of the air traffic security maps, my department has decided to introduce a two-step process with a provisional measure that would allow revised exemptions to be introduced before completion.” Mapping exercise, but with defined restricted areas around airports and airfields for solar systems.
“These preliminary draft ordinances have now been checked in accordance with the requirements of the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, Directive 2001/42 / EC. It was determined that a full SEA is required on the draft proposals, which includes a public consultation as part of the process. “
The minister said this process is expected to take around four months. It is planned that the procedure for concluding the provisional exemption regulations for solar collector planning will be completed by the fourth quarter of 2021.
“These transitional regulations will enable the vast majority of the country, well over 90%, to be covered by the provisional exemptions for solar modules, with the exception of the restricted areas in the immediate vicinity of airports and airfields.”
Work on the development of air traffic control cards for airports and airfields is expected to be completed by the end of the year, added the minister.