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One thing may be holding back Irish solar farms – and it’s not lack of sun

Planning applications for new solar farms are being lodged every two-and-a-half days but there is a lack of guidance put in place by Government to oversee their development.

Solar farms could be imperative in helping Ireland achieve the 2020 targets for electricity production from clean energy sources, thus avoiding massive EU fines for failing to do so.

Just last week, An Bord Pleanála upheld Wexford County Council’s decision to refuse permission for a large-scale solar farm to be built and Cork County Council recently passed a motion to suspended consideration of all solar applications until guidelines are in place.

At the moment Ireland has little or no commercial solar industry to speak of. An estimated total of 1 megawatt (MW), enough to power between 150 and 200 homes for a year, is currently installed across the state. Whereas a commercial development would be in the region of 5MW.

The Wexford farm would have been 45MW, spread over an area spanning more than 200 acres.

Refusal of the development was upheld for several reasons, including the fact that the project would “militate against the preservation of the landscape”.

However planning authorities also cited the fact that there was no “national guidance” as to how solar farm applications should be assessed.

Several projects such as farms in Waterford, Limerick and Wexford, have been given the go-ahead and plans for what would be Ireland’s biggest solar energy farm appear to be on track.

Dublin-based firm JBM Solar Developments is hoping to build a massive 25-megawatt farm at a 105-acre site just a few kilometres from Dublin Airport but Fingal County Council have expressed a number of concerns about the project.

Last month, planning and Local Government Minister Simon Coveney, confirmed that “there are no specific planning guidelines in place in respect of solar farms”.

Adding “I am satisfied that the planning code is sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments. However, the matter will be kept under review.”

In the absence of national guidelines, the Irish Solar Energy Association, will publish its own planning guidelines in the coming weeks.

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