Solar Energy Sector 2016 in Review
The Irish utility scale solar photovoltaic sector experienced significant growth over the course of 2016. In January 2016, only two schemes had acquired planning permission. The situation in January 2017 is quite different as over 156 planning applications for utility scale solar energy schemes have been lodged with planning authorities. The status of each of these applications is set out below (Table 1).
Table 1: Status of 2016 Planning Applications
|Status||Number of Applications||Combined Site Area (ha)||Generating Capacity (MW)||Estimated Generating Capacity (MW)*|
|Total Valid Applications||113||1911||471.5||381.6|
A consistent pattern of applications has arisen so far, with counties in the south of the country receiving the greatest interest from developers. The geographic spread of the applications lodged over 2016 is set out below (Table 2).
Table 2: Utility Scale Solar PV Scheme Geographic Spread
|County||Number of Applications|
Counties Cork and Wexford have had the most interest to date from developers, with both local authorities receiving 25 applications each over the course of 2016. Kilkenny, Tipperary and Meath each received over 10 applications each.
In terms of scale, the largest scheme for which planning was sought in 2016 was Highfield Solar’s 150-hectare development on lands outside of Duleek, County Meath. Highfield’s 89.8-hectare scheme in Wexford was refused by Wexford County Council however this decision was subsequently appealed by the applicant to An Bord Pleanála. A decision from the Board on this development is expected in early January 2017. No doubt the decision will make interesting reading as this scheme will be the largest utility scale solar PV scheme that the board will have adjudicated on to date.
Beyond the schemes mentioned above, a number of interesting planning decisions have been returned by both local authorities and An Bord Pleanála during 2016. The rejection of planning permission for a scheme located on lands zoned for the future expansion of Belview Port indicates that, while the solar energy sector may consider the deployment of PV infrastructure as being a temporary land use (25-30 years in duration), such reasoning does not overrule possible land use impacts arising from the need for lands to service adjoining infrastructure. In Wicklow, the local planning authority rejected planning permission for a scheme on grounds of visual impact. An Bord Pleanala took a differing view and concluded that the proposed development’s visual impact did not warrant refusal.
In addition, a number of financial appeals have been taken by first parties against the amounts of development contributions which have been levied on grants of planning permission. The source of this issue may be the application of development contribution rates which are more appropriate for the wind energy sector as opposed to solar energy. The energy efficiency and profitability of wind energy infrastructure differs from that of solar energy therefore the application of inappropriate development contributions may form an obstacle to the growth of the sector.
A comprehensive breakdown of the utility scale solar planning pipeline is available by clicking here. In addition, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has published research it recently funded through its Research Development and Demonstration (RDD) programme. The link to this research is available by clicking here. It recently received some press coverage in tandem with the wider growth of the solar energy sector in the Irish Examiner. The link to the article is available here.
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