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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 3

Planning and Development Regulations (Amendment) (Solar Energy for Schools and Community Buildings) Bill 2022: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for the installation of solar panels on school and community buildings without the need for planning permission, and for this purpose to amend S.I. No. 600 of 2001.

Putting solar panels on the schools is a no-brainer. There are 4,000 schools in the State. The overwhelming majority do not have solar panels. Imagine the energy that would be saved if they had solar panels. Imagine the money that hard-pressed schools would save if they had solar panels.

Nearly four months ago, the Taoiseach gave commitments that regulations would be introduced within three weeks to allow schools to erect solar panels without the need for planning permission. We have had neither sight nor sound of any regulatory change since then.

The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, sits next to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, at Cabinet. It is within Deputy Darragh O'Brien's gift to bring in these regulations overnight if he wanted to.

Schools have enough on their plate without having to go through the arduous process of obtaining planning permission to erect solar panels, let alone the costs involved with these applications. The administrative burden is disincentivising schools from switching to solar power.

I have spoke to schools across the country and they are under pressure. The rising energy costs and reduced ability to fundraise mean their budgets are squeezed more and more. These are environmentally conscious communities, as Deputy Eamon Ryan will be aware from green flag initiatives and various other initiatives, but this is not something that they can do the way things are. Without active steps to ease the financial burden on schools, the additional costs could fall onto parents in the form of voluntary contributions in September.

By erecting solar panels on school buildings, and, indeed, on community buildings, schools can reduce their energy bills as well as generating extra income through selling off excess electricity back to the grid. It is a win-win for schools. It is a win-win for climate. It is a win-win for the community as a whole.

Tá sé seo furasta a dhéanamh. Ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhfuil an Rialtas tar éis bogadh ar seo cheana féin. It is an obvious and easily-implementable environmental win. I do not see why the Government is dragging its heels on this. It is World Environment Day on Sunday. I call on the Government to urgently amend the regulations and simplify the process of solar panels for schools and for community buildings. It is within its gift to do so and I hope it treats this with the urgency it deserves.

Report after report highlights the escalating reality of global warming and stresses the urgent need for action to try and mitigate climate change. Shifting our energy sector away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives will be key to reducing our carbon emissions. In addition to major investment in offshore and offshore wind and solar, microgeneration will play an important role in our energy transition.

We have thousands of State-owned schools and community buildings across the country that are perfectly placed to generate clean energy via solar photovoltaic, PV. This is as much about empowerment as anything else. People have paid in to climate action but they have not necessarily been allowed buy in. This is a real opportunity.

This is the lowest of the low hanging fruit. We are bringing forward this legislation. We know there is other legislation there but this is our way of banging the table and saying to the Government to get on with, and we will support it in, the work.

A colleague, Deputy Stanley, brought forward similar legislation in 2019 and, in 2017, brought forward the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill. This is the low-hanging fruit. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said yesterday that there is climate rhetoric but not climate action and the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, says the same. There is one word, and I note the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was at the conference yesterday with the EPA, namely, "implementation." That is what this Bill is about.

I hope the Minister takes it in the spirit in which it is intended but we need to see action in relation to it. There are so many positive benefits of this, including opportunities for schools and communities. It is the real opportunity of the climate transition. It is fundamentally about a just transition.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.
Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 1.16 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 1.56 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 1.16 p.m. and resumed at 1.56 p.m.
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