Solar farm developments lack proper strategy, warns planner
Rise in applications prompts inspector to call for planned development
There has been a "sudden wave" of applications to build solar farms in Ireland but there is still no strategic plan for their development, An Bord Pleanala has warned.
One of its inspectors made the damning assessment as she urged the watchdog's board to reject plans for a €25m solar farm planned for Co Wexford.
A number of companies are vying to deploy vast solar arrays in Ireland as the country struggles to meet a 2020 EU target of generating 40pc of its electricity from renewable sources.
Ireland could face stiff fines if it fails to meet the targets.
"There has been a sudden wave of proposed solar power development within the last two years and both the volume and scale of such development is increasing," said an inspector for An Bord Pleanala reviewing the case of a planned solar farm in south Wexford.
"At present, however, there is no spatial strategy or strategic plan to direct such important renewable energy development to appropriate locations at either a national, a regional or a local level," she said, urging that the huge project on a total of nearly 32 hectares be rejected by the planning watchdog.
The 17-megawatt energy farm was being planned by Irish firm Harmony Solar over two separate plots of land. Harmony Solar is owned by Co Louth-based Noel Reid, Dublin-based John Swan, and Lisa Rowe from Bridgetown, Co Wexford, near where the solar farm is planned.
Wexford County Council had rejected the proposed solar farm, solely due to concerns about possible glinting and glare.
An inspector for An Bord Pleanala said the scheme should be rejected for a variety of reasons, including that it would be contrary to proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
But the watchdog's board has given permission for part of the array, which will involve a development on 12-hectares of land that forms part of the overall planned site for the project.
It agreed with its inspector that development of the remaining 20-hectare site that would form the larger part of the solar farm would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
It's been calculated that there are more than 600MW of solar farm developments in Ireland that have already been approved or are on appeal.
The watchdog recently refused permission for another Wexford solar farm by Highfield Solar, which would have been the country's biggest. It would have generated about 45 megawatts of power and cost more than €50m to build.
But the inspector in that case said: "It is not demonstrated, in the absence of an assessment at national level, that this particular type of development involving removal of productive lands from agricultural use and significant landscape changes would be beneficial to the country as a whole."
Sunday Indo Business