The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, has signed into law revised planning exemptions for the installation of rooftop solar panels on houses and certain non-domestic buildings. The exemptions are aimed at increasing Ireland’s generation of solar energy and combating climate change. The changes take immediate effect.
These regulations aim to bring Ireland into line with the EU’s Solar Rooftops Initiative by making permitting procedures for installing solar on rooftops shorter and simpler. It supports a target of installing up to 380MW (approximately 1 million solar panels) of microgeneration capacity as part of Ireland’s overall solar targets under the government’s Climate Action Plan. This would generate over 300 GWh of renewable electricity per annum, with the potential to abate 1.4 million tonnes of CO2eq over the lifetime of the installations. The regulations will also support the rollout of small-scale generation and act as an enabler for the Small-Scale Generation Support Scheme (SSG), which is expected to become available next year.
Commenting on the regulations Minister O’Brien said, “with these new exemptions we are removing barriers and ensuring that individuals, communities, businesses and farms can generate their own electricity, reduce their own bills and play their part in creating a zero-carbon future fuelled by renewable energy. These changes will facilitate the rollout of rooftop solar panels and, coupled with the government-supported SEAI Solar PV grant, will see more people install solar panels across the country. This has the added benefit of increasing Ireland’s energy security, a major challenge given current energy pressures. These regulations implement an important commitment in the Programme for Government and will help Ireland meet the government’s Climate Action Plan targets.”
Under the revised regulations the following is now allowed:
1. For solar panel installations on houses: there is no limit to the area of solar panels which can be installed on rooftops of homes, anywhere in the country. Solar installations will be able to cover the entire roof of a house. The 12sqm/ 50% roof limit which previously applied to houses has been removed nationwide.
2. For solar panel installations on rooftops of all other existing classes of development (Industrial; Light Industrial and Business Premises; Agricultural): rooftop solar installations covering the entire roof are exempt from requiring planning permission. However, in the 43 designated Solar Safeguarding Zones, a rooftop limit remains. Solar Safeguarding Zones are areas where rooftop limitations on solar panel installations apply, to mitigate the potential impact of glint and glare near airports, aerodromes and other sites with helipads like hospitals. The existing exemption of 50 square metres or less for the entire development has been increased to a rooftop limit of 300 square metres.
3. Apartments; educational building/ health centre or hospital/ recreational or sports facility/ place of worship/ community facility or centre/ library/ certain public utility sites: exemptions have been introduced for the first time for the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of such buildings, subject to conditions and limitations and the rooftop area limit in solar safeguarding zones where applicable.
4. Exemptions for wall-mounted and free-standing solar panel installations: free-standing solar panel installations for houses are exempted from the requirement to obtain planning permission subject to a 25 square metre area limit and conditions requiring a certain amount of private open space to be maintained for the use of occupants. The exempted area for all other categories except apartments is increased to 75 square metres. In addition, wall mounted solar installations of 75 square metres are exempted for industrial and agricultural.
Exemptions in relation to installations under points 1, 2 and 3 above are subject to, among other things, minor setback distances from the edge of the roof. Points 1-4 above are also subject to general restrictions on exempted development including those regarding protected structures and Architectural Conservation Areas.
Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government and Planning, Peter Burke, added, “houses, regardless of location, will now be able to have solar panels installed on their roofs without any requirement for planning permission, which I know will be very welcome to many homeowners. The new exemptions for educational/community/ religious buildings will also give institutions such as schools greater opportunity to reduce their energy bills. The new exemptions will provide new financial and climate-related opportunities for farmers, underpinned by available grants.”
Commenting on the revised exemptions and the future of protected structures, Minister of State with responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, said, “while buildings and areas of architectural heritage significance have a role to play in meeting our renewable energy ambition, it is important that we ensure sufficient safeguards for our protected structures and architectural conservation areas from inappropriate development. I am satisfied that these amendments as well as the existing safeguards in the Planning Act and Regulations provide the necessary safeguards. In most instances, a case-by-case assessment by the relevant planning authority will be necessary to ensure that solar development does not materially affect the character of our protected structures and Architectural Conservation Areas. I’d encourage people to engage with their local Heritage Officer or Conservation Officer for information and support.”