I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise this very important issue. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, to create national guidelines pertaining to solar farms to help local authorities deal with the applications that have come before them.
There has been a major uptake in applications for solar farms throughout Ireland. In my local area and across the State, planning applications for solar farms have gone through the roof. One source recently claimed that more than 20,000 acres of land are being tied up in contracts for solar farms.
That raises the question of where the local authority is in terms of dealing with such planning permissions. Council planners are ill-equipped in respect of the national strategy to make a formal decision over these very complex planning permissions. We need to move away from once-off planning permissions to overall guidelines, with a Government vision and a strategy going forward. At the moment, planning applications are being made not with regard to suitability or guidelines but where, realistically, the nearest substation is. That is becoming a major driver in the vast number of planning applications at the moment. County development plans and regional planning guidelines have all stated where a wind farm should be but, in the case of solar farms, it is ad hoc and on a once-off basis. We need to tie everything in together in a national strategy.
We are in favour of solar farms and the issue needs to be looked at because we have guidelines regarding the Paris Agreement and those targets need to be met. However, at national, county and regional level we need to put together an overall framework, which we are lacking at the moment. What happens consistently in one county does not happen consistently in the next. Some of these planning permissions have now gone to An Bord Pleanála, which has held hearings on the first and has moved on. The communities are at a loss as to what the national strategy is regarding solar farms and it is an issue with which we need to deal. I will call on the Minister to ensure we have the necessary guidelines in place and a framework under which we can move forward to inform both our local authorities and our communities of where and when these solar farms can be viable.