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.