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Seanad Éireann debate -
Monday, 28 Jun 2021

Vol. 277 No. 7

Planning and Development (Solar Panels for Public Buildings, Schools, Homes and Other Premises) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State. Contrary to what we tell ourselves, we have sun in this country but we do not have enough solar panels to use that sun. Think of all the roofs and buildings that could convert the natural energy of the sun into electricity, yet only a handful do. Of all the roofs throughout the country, surely those on schools should be at the top of the agenda. It is almost impossible for schools and for other public buildings to install solar panels because of red tape.

I would love to see my children and children throughout the country at the heart of the climate transition, which is exactly where they want to be. Children learn through heads, hands and hearts. Caring for and being part of the environment covers all of those bases and it is a truly rounded education. The educational work I have been involved in has been about being out in nature, messing around in the woods or simply planting a potato in a small pot. Energy is a key untapped resource. Children could get involved in planning how many panels they could put on their school buildings and where, work out how much energy they could generate, keep track of it daily, and then see their whiteboards and computers powered by that electricity. When it comes to Saturdays, Sundays and any day when they are not in school, they would be able to sell that energy back to the grid as soon as microgeneration is truly a reality in this country. It cannot come too soon.

When I looked at getting this over the line a couple of years ago for a school in Galway, there were issues related to matched funding and there was substantial red tape, so it was not possible in the end. This Bill came about because of relentless campaigning by students, teachers and Friends of the Earth, who are sick of the red tape involved in getting solar panels on their roofs. As education spokesperson for the Green Party, I cannot think of a better education than one that puts children in the driving seat, closer to nature, and helps them to understand the technicalities around producing their own energy. This Bill would solve the planning problem. There is little point in one Department progressing microgeneration unless all Departments are on board and take away the planning issues that are having a chilling effect from the start.

With this Bill, schools, libraries, museums, town halls, and community centres would all be exempt from planning requirements unless they are listed buildings. At present, they need planning permission for even one panel on the roof. Farm sheds and industrial buildings have a limit on the number of panels permitted and this Bill would see an end to that. This week, in the Joint Committee on Climate Action, we heard from Macra na Feirme that farmers want to be environmentally friendly. They want to be able to sell their products to market and to demonstrate they are green, but they need support to do it. Part of what they asked was for the provision of ecologists. There is an opportunity to make a contribution with this Bill. Part of that would be through selling energy back to the grid to make money and part would be through using the energy themselves in their work. All of that means eliminating the arbitrary size restrictions for solar panels in planning.

What is that red tape specifically? All development, unless specifically exempted in section 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 or in Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, requires planning permission. That includes solar panels. Some buildings have had size allowances. Until now, schools and other public buildings have not been exempt at all.

In bringing this Bill to the Seanad, I acknowledge the work of Senator Dooley, who is here today, who had a Bill which aimed to address the issue in a slightly different manner, but the Government fell before it was added to the Order Paper. I am delighted to see Senator Dooley here today. I acknowledge the work of Friends of the Earth Ireland, which has sent extensive background notes and asked Senators to support this Bill. I thank Kate Ruddock, our dedicated researcher who has worked on this in the background for aeons. I offer particular praise to the children and young people of Ireland, who continue to lead the way on the environment. Our group is here, with Senators Garvey, Martin and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, to support them.

A week ago, Councillor Claire Byrne brought me to a school in south Dublin where the young people have a really active green committee. They recently erected 11 kW of solar panels. It is one of only a handful of schools in the country that have been able to jump through all of the hoops to get this over the line. The principal, John McKennedy, told me that it took over a year and a half to get through planning. That does not include the years of fundraising. When one roof was found to be unsuitable by those erecting the panels, they should have been able to move to another roof but instead had to go through the planning process all over again. This does not just take time. The architectural drawings can cost upwards of €3,000. That is no small obstacle. It is stopping the advancement at speed of the climate transition. There is an opportunity for the State, with this Bill, microgeneration, and through providing more mentors through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, to give every child an energy education. I know the Minister for Education is doing work on retrofitting and supporting schools which are changing their electricity system to solar and other energy forms.

With this Bill, planning permission would no longer be required for solar panels on schools and public buildings. It would be possible to install larger arrays of solar panels on homes without planning permission and they would no longer be limited to 12 sq. m or 50% of the roof area.

Industrial, business and agricultural buildings would be able to install larger arrays without planning permission and no longer be limited to 50% of roof area. We are currently bringing a climate Bill through this House and, as a member of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, I believe passionately that the transition to a climate-neutral society can empower children and young people, making their lives better. They may not have solar panels on their roofs at home but they should have the ability to contribute and share in the transition in their classrooms, public libraries and community centres.

I hope Senators will support this Bill that I am introducing along with my colleagues, Senators Garvey and Martin, and which is supported by the Minister of State, Senator Hackett.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is lá iontach é. Sometimes in politics you wonder why you bother. There can be tough days. You get a lot of grief and sometimes it is hard. It is important to celebrate wins and today is a definite win. We have been fighting for this for probably 20 or 30 years. I remember being in a school 14 years ago. We were talking about fossil fuels, cars and energy savings. They have electric detectives in many schools that take part in the green schools programme. They have little badges and stuff and do monitoring using a thing called an owl to find out what uses the most energy, whether computers, kettles or fridges. The big energy guzzlers were the white boards.

The children were great at isolating the issues and they had traffic light systems, with green, orange and red, indicating who used the most energy and making staff and pupils aware. However, they did not have the solution. They knew what a solar panel was but when they asked to get solar panels they were told they needed architects, planning permission and fundraising. They were told schools were trying to get the hole in the roof fixed or raise funds for a school tour and it was hard to prioritise solar panels. The kids are great. There are no obstacles. They ask why we are complicating things and say just put up the solar panels. As of this Bill, we will be able to do that. It is a positive day for children in schools and it also means they can go home to their moms and dads and say they can do more of it at home.

As rural development spokesperson, I contend that, if they are from a farming background, it is a huge win. The more rural you live, the more sheds and roof space you have. This is nearly more beneficial for rural dwellers than urban dwellers because we tend to have a shed, a lean-to or a few things like that. We have more stuff to store. This will make it simpler for farming communities to put up solar panels and do so in greater numbers. My friends who are dairy farmers have huge energy outgoings. It is a huge cost and, up to now, it has been prohibitive for them to apply for planning and get solar panels on their roofs. This is a good day for them. There are good grants there at the moment for solar panels. The Green Party has put much more into funding solar so it will enable communities and people to own their energy. When you own something, you take more responsibility and become more aware of it.

It has been an abstract thing. When you start educating people on electricity, they do not think about where it comes from, whether that is coal from Moneypoint or turf burning stations in the midlands. We were not aware. We turned on switches or pushed buttons and things just happened. Now we know all our energy comes from fossil fuels or a cleaner, greener source, which is what we are moving towards. This is a huge day for every person in Ireland. They will be empowered to be in charge of their electricity. When we bring in the feed-in tariff in the next couple of months, it will mean that if there is surplus energy, they can send it back to the grid.

I was talking to a principal today in a school we had worked with on the green flag quite a few years ago. He had been on to me about planning permission, as many schools had over the years. He said he had found a company that will fit enough solar panels to cover the school's electricity needs. This is a big school, namely, Ennis CBS. The principal, Dara Glynn, does nothing by halves and has been powering on with this. He was going to get it one way or the other, even before we passed this Bill. He was one of the first people I told today. He said they can get 50% funding from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, to cover the roof in solar panels. It will meet all the school's daily needs and they will be able to sell it at weekends and in summer. Every school in Ireland has to raise funds, even though they should not have to. This is a great day for the poor mams and dads that have been doing bake sales and all these kinds of things for years. Now they can get the solar panels up and apply for the grant. There are low percentage green loans to meet the balance. This will be a possibility and a good way of owning electricity. As Senator O'Reilly said, they can keep an eye and monitor it.

Many kids have been reading ESB monitors for years. We do not realise what has been going on in schools. Teachers and pupils have been doing so much work on this. They have been reading the ESB meter and having photocopy-free Fridays or power-down Tuesdays where they turned everything off in the school to see if the meter would stop. Then they would run around the school to see why it was still running. There has been a lot of work done in schools on this. Many farmers have brought this issue to me over recent years when I was canvassing in north Clare. It was great to see the interest farmers had in this. They were asking when it would be simplified, when they could put up more and what the challenges were. This is a big success today.

I have to thank a few people. I thank our researcher, Kate Ruddock, who did great work on this in recent weeks. She is only with us a short time and got stuck in straight away. Friends of the Earth in recent years did much good work on solar power in schools. Green schools committees all over Ireland have been badgering their teachers and parents to turn off lights, power things down and have photocopy-free Fridays. Instead of having the blinds closed and the lights on, they realise there is daylight, open the curtains and turn off the lights. There is great positive pestering from students. I thank a great woman in Limerick, Asia Pasinska. She went through a two-year battle with the courts because she put up more solar panels than she was supposed to, though fewer than this Bill will allow. She fought tooth and nail for two years. She raised and highlighted an important issue. It was madness that she was getting into trouble for producing her own clean, green energy. This is a good day for her. It is hard for an individual taking on the powers that be for the greater good. She has done that and should be praised.

Is important that public buildings can do it and that local authorities lead the way on this. There are many good energy agencies out there. We have one called Limerick Clare Energy Agency. There is Tipperary Energy Agency and a few more are popping up. I hope they lead the way because if we want the public to do it, we have to expect our public buildings to do it first. I would like to see that happening as a matter of urgency. Local authorities and Government people have to set the standard and be seen to be doing the right thing. It is the way forward. The climate Bill is coming but the less we rely on fossil fuels, the more empowered we are, the more we save money and the more we feel good about ourselves for doing the right thing.

There are grants for batteries as well. If you have surplus energy, you will be able to save it. We are paying €0.18 per kWh. Every kWh you make, you are saving €0.18. Really good sunshine is not needed for the photovoltaics. Solar panels have come a long way. We have top-quality photovoltaic panels that have improved vastly in the last few years. They make electricity on days when there is any light at all. People think it only works when there is loads of sunshine but that is not true. I have many friends who constantly boast about how they have met all their energy needs and it was not even a good, sunny day. This is a positive step. It is not just for the Greens but for everybody. We have to normalise going green. We need to bring everybody with us. This is a positive Bill for all parties and individuals.

I look forward to support from the entire House, including Opposition parties and Independents, as well as our coalition colleagues to move this Bill forward. Let us get the ball rolling, simplify solar and make it easier for people who want to do the right thing.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank the Green Party Senators for this Bill. This is nothing new. Let us not get too excited. There are five Stages to a Bill so we have a long way to go before this becomes legislation. We ought to be realistic.

I will support the Bill but there are a number of questions we need to ask about it. First, I am led to believe we do not need a Bill at all. I presume the Minister of State has had advice and briefing in advance of coming to the House.

I am advised that no Bill is required. I am advised that the officials of the Minister of State who is ultimately responsible - the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke - have been working extensively on regulations prior to and since he came into office. I am also advised that the Department is happiest to proceed - this is not to say that it is always right - via regulations.

Senators Pauline O'Reilly and Garvey spoke very eloquently and are very committed to renewable alternative energy, particularly in respect of its impact on public buildings and schools, but what is the quickest way to achieve this? Is it through regulations to be signed by the Minister, who is competent and will ultimately have advice on that, or is it through the Bill? I have no hang-ups about a Bill or about regulations. I want it done and done quickly but I want it done with a number of conditions. The Minister of State will be familiar and the Green Party will be particularly familiar with environmental impact assessments, environmental impact appraisal and the conditions set out about public engagement in environment and planning relating to the Aarhus Convention. I saw on the Minister of State's website today some of the issues relating to public engagement. To be fair to his party, it has a really strong commitment to engaging with the public - the citizen, who, ultimately, must have a say. It is important that we look. We have protected structures, the curtilage of protected structures and heritage buildings. Kilkenny, where the Minister of State comes from, is adorned with the most beautiful buildings. We cannot introduce a system that in any way compromises or undermines them in terms of our principles relating to protected structures. We have national monuments, very sensitive sites and sites out in the Burren in County Clare and I would be appalled if I thought one of these was going up. That is only my view. We have the aviation industry, which has made representations relating to Clare and is unhappy across the country with regard to aspects of them.

There is a lot of work to be teased out. Critically, we need some kind of assessment and appraisal. We need scoping and an assessment of its impact on the physical environment and the natural environment. I do not think the Minister of State disagrees with any of that. We must take it easy and go through all the steps.

I was in Thurles today and spoke to a number of schoolchildren. I mentioned that I was looking forward to coming and engaging with this Green Party Bill today. Immediately, three or four of these eight-year-olds said they did not like these panels. I asked why they did not like them. One of the girls told me that she saw a programme in Spain where they were being dumped into a landfill while another little fellow told me that they only have a lifespan of eight to ten years. These are young children engaging and their school is a green school too. It is great that they are engaging in respect of the environment. I simply do not know as a politician where they go. Do they go into landfill? Are they made of certain plastics? Are there certain aspects of them that are not biodegradable? I would certainly like to know more about it. What is the international experience? There are a lot of questions to be asked. However, I am supportive of the Bill at this stage because we need to run it in tandem with what the Department might be doing, thinking and planning.

On a positive note, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit a fruit and vegetable establishment in north County Dublin some weeks ago. Again, I saw at first hand how the horticultural industry has embraced solar panels. This successful horticultural business is not too far away from Lusk and Dublin Airport. While they were not on the ground because I have some concerns about that, we have a land policy. As part of her brief, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is responsible for our land policy. What I liked about the project, and I will point the Minister of State in the direction of these people because it is a really good model, is that they were slightly raised about 1.5 m off the ground. They were successfully using them as shelter for salad crops. They were catching the sun and producing energy for their tomato houses so there was a synergy and a worked-out scheme. They tweaked it for a few years but they got something right. There are real possibilities and potential for it, certainly in the horticultural industry. It is an area related to climate change. We spoke with the leader of the Green Party and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications about the climate Bill last week. He mentioned that we need to embrace alternatives, get the horticultural industry up and running, empower the agricultural community and the rural community, get jobs there and get alternatives in terms of land use. There are a lot of good points and I do not want to be negative. I want to be positive and support it.

However, I would ask the Minister of State to address some areas such as his knowledge of the regulations versus the Bill and how far the Department has gone. If nothing else, this Bill will put pressure on the Department and officials. The focus must be how quickly we can get this over the line.

I also welcome the Green Party's initiative here and I thank the Senators for their work on it. We will certainly support it. It is what all of us have recognised for some time as an unnecessary impediment to the continued increase in ambition of many citizens who want to play their role in decarbonising our economy. The provisions in the Bill set out a clear identification of a problem that is reducing people's ability to act quickly in participating in the reduction of the output of carbon into the atmosphere.

A few aspects of it are important. A number of Senators have spoken about tying it into education and recognising that schools can play a role. Any time we get a citizen to make a significant change in the way he or she lives his or her life to benefit the environment, we create a climate change ambassador. When somebody purchases an electric vehicle or insulates his or her home, sometimes it is based on an incentive put in place by the State but once he or she makes that initial choice, it alters his or her life in so many other ways because he or she becomes an ambassador for other changes he or she might not require an financial incentive to do.

I have long held the view that there should have been no planning impediment across society regarding the use of solar panels. I would probably go a bit further and be inclined to make it a requirement of most buildings. Why would they put in a roof that does not have solar panels? There may be some specific reasons not to do it but they should be the exception and the rule should ultimately be that all roofs would be required to capture light. As Senator Garvey and others have identified, it does not require direct sunlight. Capture can still take place on days we might consider to be somewhat inclement, although maybe not to the same intensity. However, light is still generating electricity. As we move away from carbon-intensive fuels and towards a society where electricity will be the energy source of the future, we must find much more imaginative ways of harnessing, capturing and storing electricity. Solar panels in conjunction with advancing battery technologies will form part of that mix.

Of course, the capture of wind is a hugely important feature of generating electricity but quite frankly, we now see that many of our communities are not prepared to accept the imposition of wind turbines. It is hard to blame them when one considers the impact they can have on small communities. We are told that we are still ten years away from capturing wind off shore, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean where there are vast amounts of energy to be harnessed. In the intervening period, we have to be more creative because communities will not accept wind turbines, as some did in the past in the same way as previous generations accepted the large poles for carrying electricity. Those large metal structures are not acceptable anymore. Communities do not want them and the same is happening with the capture of wind. We must look at solar panel technology.

I listened to what Senator Boyhan said about their lifespan. There are certainly issues there but we have a window to get it right when it comes to our emissions and we must use the technologies that are here today. I have no doubt that if this House exists 50 or 100 years from now, as I am sure it will, there will be technologies we have not even dreamt of that will capture electricity if electricity is what will be used then. Neither I nor anyone else knows.

We must use whatever is available to us to rid our environment of the destruction caused by carbon emissions and the emissions from other associated gases considered to be equivalent to carbon. What is available to us must be used. I would be a strong supporter of the use of these solar cells. The more opportunities we give society the cheaper energy will become and the more advances will take place

We see the solar cells that are in use. Five years ago the cost of installing them was prohibitive but now it is not. They have reduced in price because more people are using them across the world. The same is happening with battery technology. I would be a strong advocate of pushing and supporting such advances in every way we can. We must encourage people in the first instance. To get the early adapters we must provide incentives. That is being done though the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. We need to remove impediments to planning. The next phase the Minister of State needs to address is to require the next layer of buildings to install solar panels. I am taken aback when I see large industrial buildings with massive roofs that it was not a planning requirement for them to install solar panels to generate electricity. There is financial gain and reward to be derived from that but in the first instance their installation generates electricity that does not have to be generated by gas, oil or coal as currently happens. We must be far more ambitious in everything we do. Science will evolve and develop and there will be new opportunities. Let us harness what we have and we should do it now. The Minister of State should put pressure on his Department. There will be people who will have concerns about it. We hear of concerns expressed by aviation authorities. Those can be pushed aside as there are certain restriction zones around airports that have issues, but after that let us get on and get it done.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend my Green Party colleagues, Senators Pauline O’Reilly, Garvey and Martin, on bringing forward this Bill which will amend Parts 1 to 3, inclusive, of Schedule 2 to the Planning and Development Regulations in order to remove planning restrictions that relate to the installation of solar panels on public buildings, schools, homes, business premises and agricultural buildings.

I would echo much of the comments made by Senator Dooley. What the Bill proposes is a no-brainer. There is no question about that. Under the proposals in Bill before us homes will be able to install a larger array of solar panel. Currently, it is restricted to 12 sq. m or 50% of the roof area. Likewise, industrial buildings, businesses and agricultural buildings, in particular, will be able to install them. This is an area where our rural and agricultural sector can have a positive impact on reducing carbon emissions. I hope when we debate the climate Bill later in the week that sector will be credited for reducing its energy requirements through the installation of these panels. Panels will be able to be installed on the ground up to the 4 m in height. As referenced, technology in this area is improving rapidly. It is now possible to get roof slates that incorporate solar panels. I was given a demonstration of that. A Waterford company, Redfoot Roofing, has the patent for new lock roof slates, which open up the possibility of being able to install solar panels on protected structures because it does not impact on roofline of the building because it is incorporated in the slate. Technology in this area will continue to rapidly evolve in the coming years. We are very far behind in the use of solar energy compared to our European counterparts. Any time one visits any of our European neighbours all one can see on roofs is solar panels regardless of whether one visits a rural or urban area. We need to step up to the mark in terms of solar energy.

As Senators Garvey and Dooley referenced, solar panels do not need sunshine to work, they work on the basis of light. We are very well placed in Ireland to benefit from solar energy. The word "solar" and its reference to the sun probably catches many people out. Perhaps we should rephrase the term. In order to meet our 70% targets for 2030 we will have to get serious about solar energy.

The planning permissions currently required for such installation are an impediment to investing in this area. It is unacceptable that schools and farms, in particular, are being locked out from the move to green energy by the existing barriers in terms of planning permission.

I understand the Minister of State's Department stated it needs to carry out a detailed aviation safeguarding map, which will take a further nine months to develop, and in meantime interim regulations will be put in place, which will take five to six months, by the end of this year. That is an unacceptable timeline. I would echo previous comments made to push the Department on the timelines for this. Any issues regarding glint or glare can be readily addressed. There is no reason we cannot put an exclusion area in place around our existing airports and open this up to the remainder of the country. We have a limited number of airports in the country. There is no reason the rest of the country outside those areas cannot benefit immediately from the removal of the requirement for planning permission.

I acknowledge the consultation on the micro-generation support scheme to enable individuals in communities to sell their renewable electricity such as that generated from solar panels and that the summary report of submissions has been published. The timetable set out for the auctions for March, July and September of next year is not ambitious enough in terms of our getting serious about solar energy. If there is an issue with resources in the Department, I ask that it be addressed. It is urgent we tackle this issue. I commend my colleagues on bringing the Bill before us and ask that action on it be expedited

I congratulate the Green Party Senators on bringing forward this Bill. They are members of the smaller party in government and I have sympathy for what happens smaller parties in government and the hassle and blame they get for things they do not necessarily cause. The Green Party Ministers and Senators have been performing exceptionally well during the past year and, particularly when focused on green issues. I congratulate them on that as they mark their one year in government, as they get blowback from others and as this is the type of legislation a Green Party should be bringing forward.

I welcome this Bill and the Labour Party fully supports it. When the Green Party first launched this Bill I was surprised to learn solar panelling in schools was not covered by planning exemptions. I checked the number of schools and educational institutions we have. They number 8,500 and their square footage would be massive. We should not only allow schools to generate their own electricity. Under the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill they could sell it back to the grid when they are not using that electrical capacity. We should be funding and taking more prominent steps to allow our network of State institutions to begin to tackle our carbon emissions and climate change.

I know from working in a school, and from school buildings, that many principals would say they are not as focused on education as they should be and that they are mainly focused on school buildings. Investment in infrastructure and schools is important in terms of bringing them up to standard and making them more energy efficient. As part of the roll-out and implementation of this, I would like to see the Department of Education taking a more active role in improving the energy efficiency of school buildings rather than just allowing schools to put up solar panels without planning permission. It is important that the Department equips principals with knowledge and funding and that it assists them centrally, as it does with the school building programmes. Many schools in this country are very old, damp and leaky. One has to leave the windows open with the heat on in the winter because the windows are covered in condensation. That is something in our school stock that we need to be able to tackle.

Senator Dooley's point on solar power is important. We need to focus beyond schools. Over the next ten years, we plan to build at least 34,000 new houses. We must ensure the standards used in building those houses prepares them to be climate ready. Local authorities have a big role in doing this, particularly when building housing. When I was on Dublin City Council and the new social housing was being built off Cork Street, I asked about using green roofs to protect in the context of flood protection. Flood protection in Dublin city is one of the bigger issues we face because many people have paved over the natural soakage in the city. We were told it was too expensive, the technology was not developed and it was too heavy in terms of the construction of the building. Those are the things in our climate strategy that we need to consider doing in order that local authorities and Government institutions future-proofing our buildings.

I commend the Green Party Senators on putting down this Bill. They have been very active Senators in the area of climate change and environmental issues. The Labour Party fully supports this Bill.

I too commend the Green Party Senators on bringing this Bill forward. It is a welcome Bill and Sinn Féin will support it. I have a word of caution to offer in terms of how, at the moment, it does not join up with the proposed microgeneration support scheme. I will reflect primarily on this in my contribution, but I commend the Green Party Senators and I support the Bill.

Removing the barriers from the planning process is a prerequisite to rolling out solar panels on the scale that we need them, but it is not sufficient. The other enabling factor, as we have spoken about, is the microgeneration support scheme and that it is fit for purpose. Many people have long-championed the roll-out of solar panels and microgeneration. A colleague of mine in the Dáil introduced a Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill, whereby suppliers would have to pay the householder for excess electricity supplied to the grid from small-scale renewable energy. If done correctly, microgeneration could be a significant tool in helping people enjoy the benefit of the transition away from fossil fuels. For too long, the approach has been focused on more stick than carrot. It could help people to lower energy bills and provide some income, which Senator Garvey spoke about in terms of schools. It could add to the State's overall renewable energy production and it could help our schools, community groups and farmers to enjoy a much-needed new stream of income.

The change to the planning regulations is a necessary step but, in and of itself, it is not sufficient. Both the support scheme and the planning regulations must be in place if we are to see rooftop solar energy on the scale that is needed. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of joined-up thinking between this planning regulation and the proposed microgeneration support scheme. To illustrate this point, I take primary schools as an example. The Bill before us removes the burden that schools would face in getting planning permission. That is very welcome and it will make it more appealing for schools to develop solar energy, but if the proposed microgeneration support scheme, that was put to consultation this year, is anything to go by there are significant structural barriers built into the scheme's design that would make microgeneration financially unfeasible for schools. I speak to the caps on the amount of electricity that could be sold back to the grid. A school would only be able to sell a fraction of the electricity it generates to the grid. Senator Garvey mentioned that the summer months are a primary opportunity, when not much electricity is used and when much electricity generation could occur. During the summer, a time of peak solar output, the school would only be paid for a fraction of the return it would make under of the current scheme, as per the consultation.

The design of that scheme is supposed to encourage self-consumption first rather than selling back to the grid, but for schools that are empty three months of the year, that does not make any sense. This will have a negative consequence on the business case for investing in solar panels. While schools will be eager to be environmentally conscious, we cannot expect them to make the required investment if it does not make financial sense. It would be difficult for schools to make the numbers stack up. It appears the Government is aware of that. According to the support documentation that accompanied the consultation, there would be a very low rate of uptake among schools of between 0.3% and 2%.

If we want schools to benefit from the transition, we need to get this right. I call on the Minister of State to reconsider the caps that schools will face. I know he is currently reviewing the responses to the consultation, but we need a joined-up approach to the planning barriers and the barriers in the support scheme. Otherwise, the significant benefits of this Bill would be in vain. Hopefully, we can align those interests and get this done right. I commend the Greens on bringing this Bill forward.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. As always, he is a friendly face in the Chamber. I am delighted to be part of the green team sponsoring this Bill, introducing it to the House and bringing it to Second Stage.

I often begin debates on climate related matters by reminding us that nine out of ten people in the world breath unhealthy air. According to the great David Attenborough, air pollution is connected as a cause in approximately 7 million deaths in the world each year, and I am not going to disagree with him. On average, filthy air takes three years off every citizens' life expectancy. I also like to preface remarks, especially after recent debates, by reminding all Members that China has very high emissions per capita at 7.38%. Ireland's emissions are even higher at 8.32%, while Malawi has a rate of 0.11%. We all have a job to do. We must all step up, especially when one thinks that 400 million of the least well-off people equal Ireland's carbon emissions. That debunks this myth and dismisses the occasional nonsense one hears that, as a small country, Ireland can take it easy and leave the heavy lifting to someone else, that it does not need to care about moral leadership or that the dangerous domino effect of such mocking could catch on.

We have paid tribute to Friends of the Earth and Kate Ruddock. I would like to mention a learned gentleman, Matt Kelly, from my home town, Naas. Shortly after I was elected to the county council - and regularly ever since - he was one of the many people who pointed out lacunas in the law. He is one of many, including the Green Party - we are fortunate to have the Green Party in government - who are aware and will be the first to admit that this is just a small piece in the overall jigsaw.

It is correct to say that we do not have a feed-in tariff. At the moment, excess photovoltaics, PV, generation feeds back into the electricity grid with no compensation at all. That must change. It is going to change in a new green world, unrecognisable to what has gone before.

However, I urge one note of caution in this debate. With the greening of the world comes forensic examination and assessment of what is going on. When you hear it is green, do not automatically assume that it is clean and safe. In the Green Party we have no time for green washing. Each and every green project should stand up to scrutiny. If it is a proper green project, it will succeed. Such projects should be forensically proofed. There should be community buy-in.

There are already entrepreneurs in the market. We know that the greening of the world is coming with the so-called "Obamaisation". Going green can puts money in people's pockets. I want everyone to get involved in that, but not to turn a quick buck at all costs. I am thinking, in particular, of the lithium battery storage unit projects. It is incredibly important that those projects are done right with State supervision. It should not be the case that an entrepreneur comes in from another jurisdiction, registers a company in the Republic of Ireland to make a quick buck, puts in an application for one of these plants, even though he or she probably could not name three streets in the town and has never set foot in the town in his or her life, and expects the community to be delighted. I am not naming any plants in particular. Have we learned anything from the ten years of wind turbines? We have and we got that right. Therefore, for the next stage, it is vitally important that we bring people with us, have community gain and buy-in and State involvement. It must not be about making a quick buck. It must be done right. There must be long-term buy-in and a sense of security and community ownership. If we do it right, communities will queuing up to embrace the technology.

Finally, I note that Senator Boyhan spotted - and he is a forensic spotter - that this Bill is in fact an amendment of secondary legislation. That is clearly stated in the Bill and we make no qualms about it. The Green Party is in a hurry. Whatever happens, we will change the law by whatever means necessary, whether it is by amending primary or secondary legislation. We do not have the time. The country and the world do not have the time. As Greta Thurnberg said: "Our house is on fire." When a house is on fire, you put out the fire. Without getting carried away, the Seanad has put out a small but meaningful fire on the road to putting out bigger fires and ensuring that we never reach the irreversible tipping point from which we can never return.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and my colleagues for bringing forward this important proposal. We need to look at ways that we can design our homes, public buildings and buildings in a more energy-friendly way.

There are a number of other important elements that are part of it. I wish to focus on our education and research system. We need to look at putting much greater emphasis on concepts around design in our education system. We must look at how we design our homes, communities and public buildings. From an early age, people need to have an understanding of the importance of renewable energy and how we can do things in a much more sustainable way. In our recovery following the pandemic, we need to focus on investment in research. We must look at how we can solve many of our national, and indeed global, challenges. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was not set up to be an administrative Department. It was set up to be innovative and to look at the global issues that we are all facing, and prepare us all, as citizens and residents, for those challenges and opportunities that are coming down the line.

I hope the recovery plans the Government bring forward do not just focus on our economic recovery but also on how we can reshape our society to be able to avail of the possibilities of solar energy and other renewable energies, and how technologies can allow us to live much better lives.

We need to take that holistic approach. A greater emphasis in education must be placed on the design of sustainable communities from a very early stage, right through primary level and all the way through to fourth level education, with serious investment in research on how we solve global problems. We must set the challenge to some of our universities to outline how they are going to solve issues such as climate change. We must ask how we are going to ensure that we have an agricultural system that is sustainable, that supports our farmers and allows young farmers to continue on, yet at the same time guarantees that we are able to feed the 11 billion people who will be on this planet in 2100. That must be seen as part of the overall context.

There is much controversy around data centres. Data is the new gold. Ireland is ideally placed, for climate reasons, to build data centres. However, we know that data centres utilise a huge amount of energy. Can we be innovative in marrying up the use of solar and renewable energies with some of our data centres? If some of these data centres are not going to be viewed as sustainable on their own, if they partner with renewable energy generation, whether it is wave, wind or solar energy, will that be able to offset some of the challenges that we face in that space?

I agree with Senator Martin that there is money to be made in the green economy. However, we must allow people to generate income and we must incentivise it. One of the worries I have around CAP is that farmers in some way continue to be presented as not being able to contribute towards addressing climate change. There is no sector better placed to be able to do it. If we can incentivise our farm communities to use renewable energies, including solar energy, much more effectively, they will do that. If they get to own the carbon credits that they generate, they will do that. We must ensure we make all of our communities, and the farming community in particular, sustainable - environmentally as well as financially.

I welcome this Bill. There are some issues with it. I know the Government has been addressing them. It is crucial that we rethink how our homes, communities, colleges and also our private sector operate. It cannot just be seen as being part of the planning process and as a planning issue. It has to be about changing that thinking within all of our communities. That means introducing elements of design into our education system. In many ways, because we are coming out of this pandemic thinking about doing things in so many different ways, it is the ideal time to be able to do it.

What is being attempted in this Bill is very noble and the principle of it should be accepted. However, there are much broader issues that are related to it that need to be addressed. I hope and expect that all of those issues will be addressed in the Government's programmes coming out of the pandemic.

I welcome this Bill. I congratulate our Green Party colleagues on demonstrating a sense of leadership and urgency in bringing forward what is the latest in a series of Bills and motions that very much reflect our Programme for Government: Our Shared Future and all that we should be - and are - doing with that sense of urgency.

The biggest surprise is the fact that this legislation is needed at all. When I first spoke about it with Senator O'Reilly, I was surprised at what I learned. Schools should automatically have solar panels or that sense of a drive towards renewable energy.

In that, I would wave two flags. One would be that in any design of any school forever, we need provisions for ASD classes and solar or renewable energy. I very much concur with what has been said, that this should be mandatory and that you would need a very good reason to opt-out. I understand the concerns of aviation but that does not stack up when Dublin Airport has solar energy. I understand from a briefing from Friends of the Earth that Dublin Airport already has had a major solar panel installation in place since 2019. If that is the case, that the busiest airport in the country can do that, some of the concerns delaying the implementation of the regulations of the Bill are a little curious. Surely to goodness we can manage whatever is delaying here and overcome the impediments as quickly as possible.

We are in a queue waiting to have solar panels put on the roof of our house at home. I am very excited about what this winter will hold and, we hope, see our energy bill go down. From a school perspective, it makes sense to show the leadership and embrace the excitement and urgency of this generation. The Minister of State very eloquently addressed that so I will not repeat what he said. It respects the drive from the generation that is coming up and challenging us to make sure we are innovative with regard to renewable energy and responsible with regard to the climate and our Earth. We need to do this with real urgency in this case but also with other buildings, such as community centres. There are so many possibilities throughout the country where this is an opportunity for better use of income, including grant aid, as well as an ability possibly to generate an income. What is not to love about this Bill and a momentum towards solar energy? Anywhere it can go, let it go. Senator Cummins mentioned the Waterford company that has built this into roof slates. We can do it in a very accessible and non-intrusive way. I understand communities' concerns around wind, naturally, but for solar there really is no longer an excuse. On my own road I see the transition from the old ones that looked like drainpipes stuck onto the roof to what is very discreet, new development. It is very much to be embraced.

If we moved to a position where it was mandatory on publicly owned buildings, including schools, a whole industry would come behind that. We might be coming to a phase where society does not live as it used to. There is remote working, and there will be changes in patterns and culture after Covid. Some jobs and businesses will not open up again. This is an opportunity. I really respect the drive from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to look at innovative courses. We could probably push more to ensure people are reskilled and upskilled. If we are moving towards mandatory use, there is no reason we would not. There is nothing not to love about this and I fully commend my colleagues on all their hard work and to the Minister of State for being so responsive.

My last pitch is on the funding of microloans to assist organisations. We can also work in the community to facilitate and work on credit unions being able to play their part. They are awash with money and desperate to loan it out at the moment. The rules around them are prohibitive to their being able to match the innovation they would like. This would be a perfect marriage. They are in the community and have knowledge of their communities and of the ability to repay as well as building on the income that would come in the future.

I support the progress of the Bill in solidarity with my Green Party colleagues because I believe it deserves more consideration on Committee Stage, but that is not to say that I do not have concerns about it. For example, surely there is a legitimate question over whether any substantial alterations to an existing structure should be exempted from planning permission. Why should any particular type of alteration be exempt? One might argue solar panels and the harnessing of solar power is something about which we should do everything we can to encourage as a matter of public policy, and that may well be true. Instinctively we would all support that. However, I would argue this might be the thin end of the wedge in that, if we exempt one particular type of alteration from planning permission, it might encourage others. It might encourage future governments to start granting exemptions for other types of alterations which might be desirable or fashionable or seen to be at a particular time.

The Green Party has rightly raised many objections in the past to aspects of the planning system that are pro-developer, which take too little account of heritage or aesthetic value of developments, and so on. This Bill seems to go against that grain somewhat by allowing alterations to buildings without a thorough examination of their necessity or their aesthetic value. I would have a concern about that.

While I do not profess to be an expert on solar panels or their installation, is it not fair to say they can be very unsightly? I heard what Senator Seery Kearney said but I put the question nonetheless. As such, should people not have the chance to object to their installation on a neighbouring or nearby property on those reasonable grounds in order at least that their objection might be heard?

Also, as I understand it, there are a number of downsides to their use. For example, I know they can be costly, both to install in the first place and to store the energy derived from them. They take up a lot of space in terms of the surface area needed for the panels. They are weather dependent, which as we know can be a major problem in Ireland. There seems to be an environmental cost associated with the production of solar panels, both in the carbon footprint of production and transportation of them, but there are also some hazardous materials used in making them. I say all this not to rain on anyone’s parade, pardon the pun, but simply to do my job, which is to try and point out the strengths and weaknesses of particular proposals, or at least to encourage further scrutiny, and to point out that we have a long history of holding up particular practices or means of energy production as being a panacea or a model of best practice only for the flaws in them to be exposed years later.

I have said here before that recent decades are littered with proposals which were once adopted almost as dogma only to be abandoned subsequently. I am old enough to remember when there was unanimous consensus between all parties about the need to utilise bioethanol as an alternative to petroleum fuels. The international green movement, and later national governments, including our own Government, have since abandoned this position since it would have diverted resources away from food production in a world where around 700 million people are undernourished or starving. Diesel cars were once encouraged as an alternative and taxed at a lower rate accordingly, but this has since been abandoned, something which causes great resentment to this day to those who invested in diesel cars back in the day.

The State once gave generous grants for wood pellet boilers as a low-carbon alternative, and this position has also been abandoned, with many of the boilers ripped out of homes and, I believe, the company which did most of the work having gone bankrupt. All of these policies were abandoned and not much in the way of a mea culpa from those who pushed them at the time. I am not suggesting people go around in sackcloth and ashes but acknowledgement would be important. This is what happens when we adopt short-term, quick-fix policies, perhaps in a spirit of idealism but without sufficient care in reflecting about them at the time.

Electric cars are now in vogue, but there are already serious concerns about their impact due to the need for lithium in batteries, which leads to intensive mining and the exploitation of workers. Will we look back in a decade’s time, after years of the installation of solar panels without planning permission, realising we have made a similar mistake? We need to think more about this, as good as it might appear on the outside.

I heard my colleague, Senator McDowell, make a great point in the House last week on the climate action Bill, that adherence to climate action is almost becoming an alternative religion in some quarters. This point was made very eloquently by Maria Steen writing in The Irish Times a couple of years ago. Out of curiosity I tuned into the new GB News channel during the week and happened to see an interview with Roger Hallam, founder of Extinction Rebellion.

I have quoted his positions in the past, which have a distinctly religious zeal around them. His views are so extreme that the movement he founded has since disassociated itself from him. The party left him, so to speak, but it just shows the sort of rhetoric that much climate policy can be built on from time to time.

The installation of solar panels, and the questions about it, is, in many ways, a First World issue. In fact, it is the very definition of a First World issue. As I mentioned in my contribution on the climate change Bill last week, there is precious little focus on what we might be doing to protect those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, who are invariably poorer people in poor, dry, developing, industrialised or low-lying countries. I quoted Maria Steen earlier. She summed up the climate action policies of western governments very well when she said: is the rich who shall inherit the Earth, living in their A-rated houses and driving their electric cars. The poor in developing countries – who often suffer from unreliable electricity supplies...will be told “Too bad – no coal or oil-powered electricity for you."

Who said, "The meek shall inherit the earth"? The other version if it was, "The meek shall inherit the earth, if that is alright with you fellas". This is the outcome we risk. Many of our climate policies focus on the needs and actions of well-off people like ourselves in well-off countries, almost to salve our own consciences it sometimes seems, instead of focusing resources on helping those who will be most affected.

I let the Senator away with an extension of time and a mention for Andrew Neil's television company, so he got great latitude.

It is a great pleasure to support this very worthy Bill. When we think of solar energy and the impact of having it in our schools throughout the country, what greater lesson and what greater leadership can we give our young people who, as we know, are often leaders in this area. It is a very strong statement in any community when we see public buildings, be they schools, Garda barracks, community centres or council offices, with solar panels. It is very much to be welcomed.

Of course, planning permissions are needed. We need strong regulatory powers around planning but sometimes there is too much red tape. The regulations are very cumbersome so it is an excellent idea, proposed in this Bill, to ensure planning permission is not needed for solar panels, starting with public buildings in particular, but including schools and some business premises. We know that one of the large expenditure items school boards of management have to pay are electricity bills, so there would be a real boon in that. Government needs to look at the possibility of providing grants that would follow this legislation to enable schools to have solar panels. Solar panels should be mandatory for any new public buildings or schools that will be built in future. The fact that a new special education needs, SEN, classroom is now mandatory in all school buildings is really wonderful, but we need to follow that with solar panels.

Our leaving certificate students are finishing their final examination tomorrow. There could be a wealth of new employment, jobs and industry relating to solar panels. We know there will be a wealth of new jobs for young people, even those starting first year in September, by the time they finish school and college, which we have not even thought about, or dreamed of, at this point. The current drive towards apprenticeships within higher education means there is no reason we could not have many new jobs and positions in this whole area.

Retrofitting is very important for areas that have been impacted by just transition and the move away from fossil fuels and carbon industries, including my county of Kildare. There is an emphasis on just transition and retrofitting. It certainly makes sense to look at different areas, such as solar energy, in conjunction with retrofitting.

I acknowledge there are some difficulties with this legislation as it is laid out regarding aviation safety. That has to be borne in mind but I have no doubt that the proposers will bear that in mind with the amendments that need to come down the line. Some of the work the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has done on similar legislation is basically acknowledging all of that. Aviation is going through a very difficult time but, hopefully, it will be back to some level of normality within the next 12 months and we need to safeguard that. The Department intends to commission the development of detailed aviation safeguarding maps, which will identify areas in the vicinity of airports and that is important. That work will be finished in about nine months' time. Generally speaking, I welcome and support this Bill and I commend my colleagues in the Green Party for supporting it.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank him and the Senators for bringing this Bill forward. It was great to see such an initiative. As Fine Gael spokesperson for education, I am very happy to support it, especially as it includes schools. The Minister of State has highlighted that as one of the key areas in the Bill. That is so crucial because through the Green Schools programme, the work of An Taisce and everything we are doing to promote sustainable energy within our schools to help our children become aware, all our families are becoming more aware of energy sustainability. It is so crucial.

One issue is that some schools are quite old. We have some 3,200 primary schools and approximately 600 secondary schools, which is roughly 4,000 in all. I am aware of a number of them that need roof maintenance, for example. The Department of Education only recently looked at roof maintenance, last year or the year before, but so many of these schools are aged and are decades old. There are sometimes major issues with roofs leaking, not being maintained or not doing what roofs are supposed to do. How do we support schools that need roof maintenance done prior to putting in any solar panels? How do we support schools when they have no resources at the moment to look into doing that? We need to look at this issue if we are focusing on schools as one of the areas where we are going to drive this issue. I know it also applies to general public buildings. I very much welcome this Bill. These are just some points about how we are actually going to make it effective. What will our goals be in one, two or three years' time, when we look at the numbers of schools that will have solar panels and will be using them?

On agriculture, coming from a farming background I know there are many slotted sheds with lots of roof space, which is something farmers will look into. I apologise for missing the introduction of the debate but I will ask the Minister of State about what schemes he is looking at. Is he looking at the microgeneration scheme where people will be able to give power back into the grid? What schemes is he looking at? We have talked about this being a programme for which we will reduce red tape. We know from our farmers that when they apply for many schemes, they have to do so much online. How will we make it simpler for farmers to apply to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, for solar panel grants?

I really welcome this Bill. I know that sunlight is a bit of an issue.

Senator Garvey said how good it would be for schools to be able to use the sun during the summer months. I am not an expert and I do not know if solar panels can go on places other than roofs. If we are looking at roof space, we are also very green.

At the weekend in east Galway, I met somebody from Lahinch, County Clare, and she said, "My gosh, there are trees." I said that it must be lovely down in Lahinch and that she must be a great surfer. She said it is very bare because of the wind and they do not have many trees. We all know how the trees lean over sideways in the west and look very cool. The challenge is that in many parts of Ireland we have many very tall trees, particularly in east Galway and Roscommon. They are beautiful and form great forests, but how does that work with solar panels? Will there be some kind of consultant to support schools and others to achieve the maximum from their solar panels? Who will be able to tell them exactly what they need to do?

I wish to share time with Senators Currie and Joe O'Reilly, who are not in the Chamber yet.

It is a pleasure to be able to speak on this Bill. I commend Senator Pauline O'Reilly on the work that she and her party have put into the Bill. Senator Moynihan spoke earlier of the impact that smaller parties can have and sometimes the challenges that smaller parties in government have. This Bill is a real example of what a small party can do when in government. The lesson for certain parties is that when in government they can make real differences and changes. Along with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill to be debated in the House on Friday, this is an example off where that can be done.

I listened to Senator Mullen earlier. I do not always agree with him, but he always speaks eloquently. He spoke about how people might have the opportunity to object. As far as I understand, most of the arguments were about the aesthetics and appearance of it. If that is the case, people should object to how others paint their houses. It is not a valid reason for objection.

The basis of the Bill is to fast-track through something that is important and badly needed. This shows a real sense of leadership in promoting the benefits solar energy can bring. Doing it in schools is important because it educates young people of the advantages it can bring. I am surprised we are not providing an easier pathway for people to do that. I am based in County Tipperary and I can see the enormous advantages for agriculture. As Senator Cummins said, farmers are the first people to stand up and be counted when it is something that relates to climate change or solar energy and I know they will do that again.

As Senator Currie has arrived, I will leave the floor to her.

Senator Currie has three and a half minutes. If Senator Joe O'Reilly arrives, she might share time with him.

This Bill is about breaking down barriers and putting climate action into the hands of communities. Whose hands could be better than the hands of children and empowering schools that are leading the way? This is not just about microgeneration' it is also about letting them know that they have control over their future. While the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill to be debated in the House this week is a legislative framework for action and accountability, this evening we are discussing allowing change happen in our communities which is ultimately where the change needs to happen and we can play a vital role in that.

I am very much in favour of the exemption from planning permission for solar panels on schools and removing other restrictions from homes and businesses. I am on the board of an enterprise centre in Dublin 15, which wants to get its teeth into this. This is something that has been mentioned for schools in the community but it was too much hassle for them. The powerful part of this is looking at the way green schools operate and how they have been able to work in the areas of waste and biodiversity. Now they can work in the area of energy to help us meet our ambitious target of 70% renewable electricity by 2030. It also allows the idea of green schools to start happening in communities.

It is a powerful approach that can be replicated on a wider basis in communities. We need to empower Tidy Towns committees and others in the community to come together, as they already do under the sustainable energy projects, but in a more meaningful way relating to solar panels. We can start to expand from green schools into our communities so that we are bringing homes together, bringing community centres together or a mixture of both. That is what the Bill does.

I commend my Green Party colleagues. It is a practical Bill with great potential. It will help to address the barriers and put the power where it needs to be. I am enthusiastic about the prospect of microgeneration. I know the Minister of State is preparing a scheme on that at the moment. This is definitely where we need to be. We should never underestimate how the little things can create something with such power, as this can do for schools throughout the country.

Senator Joe O'Reilly was unable to come to the House, but he asked me to put on the record his support for the Bill and for the work the Green Party put into it.

I will respond to some of the points that have been made as I have been frantically taking notes. I thank the Green Party Senators - Senators Garvey, Pauline O'Reilly, Martin and Hackett - for introducing the Bill. All contributors made the point about power being given back to communities and young people in our schools, not just as a demonstration but as tangible projects they can be involved in allowing them to see they can make a difference in their own communities.

Senator Garvey mentioned the rural perspective and the relationship to farming. Senator Boyhan made a valid point related to regulations associated with the Bill. I will address that specifically in my formal closing address. However, I still believe this is a worthy Bill to introduce and we have had a good debate. Whenever I come to the Seanad, I am always impressed by the level of debate and engagement. The cross-party support for the Bill is testament to the significance and importance of it. Senator Boyhan also mentioned the Aarhus Convention and public engagement. That has been deeply embedded in climate action to date and will continue to be. A point was also raised about heritage buildings.

Several Senators mentioned photovoltaic panels and solar panels. They have 25-year lifespans and all the parts are recyclable. Senator Mullen also raised the point about their carbon footprint. Last week, I visited the Met Éireann offices and I asked about carbon capture on our bogs and bog rewetting given that the projections are for our lands to become increasingly drier with the water tables lowering over time. I asked if rewetting was the correct action and the response from Met Éireann was that it is the correct action for now.

Issues have been raised about the technology. It is the correct technology for now because we have to rapidly decarbonise our economy and our society. This is a technology available to us now and one which we should deploy and use. That is really important.

Senator Dooley made reference to the ambassadors for change and Senator Cummins referenced the points made by the Irish Farmers Association. Again, I am meeting with the IFA. If we can provide alternative technologies for the farming community to embrace, I believe it will embrace them. It will provide alternative sources of income. The national herd can be naturally reduced by giving alternative incomes to our farming communities.

A few Senators raised issues with regard to aviation and the aviation safeguarding map. That is important and specialised work that has to be tendered for. That process is under way and will take a number of months. As has been raised by Friends of the Earth Ireland, there is already a solar array in Dublin Airport. The assessment of glint and glare for that particular array was location-specific. Such assessments will be carried out for the entire airport.

It is important to note that, looking at the greater Dublin area in particular, there is significant potential around buildings. The 15 km exclusion area is very large and tunnels right into Dublin city centre. In light of all of the industrial buildings and data centres in that area that have potential and whose demand for energy is great, it is important that we put in a place a system under which this will be a lot easier to deploy.

Senator Mullen made a point and suggested that climate action is an alternative religion. If it is, I am a believer. It is vitally important that we all embrace it.

Does it grant absolution?

I do not think so. Senator Martin spoke about climate justice. This is about doing the correct thing in this country but it also has a positive impact on developing countries. I hope I have given a reasonable summary of the questions raised by Senators.

I thank the Green Party Senators for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill relating to planning exemptions for solar panels. I can confirm that the Government has agreed not to oppose the Bill. The maximisation of the roll-out of solar infrastructure is a key Government policy and an important aspect of achieving our EU renewable energy targets, transitioning to net zero emissions and achieving a climate-neutral economy. In this connection, the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, includes the specific commitment to "conclude [a] review of the current planning exemptions relating to solar panels, to ensure that households, schools, and communities can be strong champions of climate action".

By way of background, I should explain that under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, all development, unless specifically exempted under the Act or associated regulations, requires planning permission. Section 4 of the Act and Schedule 2 to the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, set out various exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Included in the planning exemptions set out in the regulations are those applying to the installation of solar infrastructure on specific building types.

Further to the climate action plan of 2019, my Department has already been undertaking a review of the solar panel exemptions and has actively engaged with a range of stakeholders including the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications for the purpose of developing draft amending regulations in respect of solar panel planning exemptions and delivering on the programme for Government commitment.

Further to this review, it is proposed to significantly increase the amount of solar equipment that can be installed on the building types which already have certain exemptions including houses, commercial and industrial premises and agricultural buildings, which have been referenced in this debate. It is further proposed to expand the scope of the exemptions to include educational, community and religious buildings, as well as apartment buildings, while also increasing the height and area allowed for free-standing solar equipment.

The main outstanding issue that remains to be resolved in the current review is the potential for glint and glare impacts for aircraft arising from the increased use of solar panels and the need to ensure that they do not result in any real or potential threat to aviation safety. Accordingly, my Department has been engaging with the Irish Aviation Authority in order to find a safe and workable solution in relation to this particular aspect of the review. My Department has begun the tendering process for this project, which will involve the development of aviation safeguard maps for each airport and aerodrome in the country. As Senators have mentioned, this will take several months.

In recognition of the length of time that it is expected to take to complete the aviation safeguarding maps, my Department has decided to adopt a two-step process involving an interim measure which would allow revised exemptions to be introduced prior to the completion of this mapping exercise but with defined restriction zones around airports and aerodromes for solar installations. These interim draft regulations have now been reviewed under the requirements of the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, Directive 2001/42/EC. It has been determined that a full SEA on the draft proposals, which will include public consultation as part of the process, is required. This process is expected to take approximately four months to complete. Again, a point was made about public consultation and the Aarhus Convention. Therefore, it is envisaged that the process for finalising the interim solar panel planning exemptions, as referred to, with restriction zones around airports and aerodromes, will be completed by the fourth quarter of 2021. These interim regulations will allow for the vast majority of the country, well over 90%, to be covered by the interim solar panel exemptions, excluding those restriction zones in close proximity to airports and aerodromes.

Work on the development of the aviation safeguarding maps for airports and aerodromes is expected to be completed by the end of the year. This will facilitate the preparation of a supplementary set of regulations defining the specific areas around airports and aerodromes in which solar panels availing of the exemptions can be installed. Senators will note that extensive work in this regard has already been undertaken by my Department, work which is now nearing completion.

Turning to the proposals in the Private Members' Bill, I acknowledge that there is merit in the Bill as proposed in the context of the climate action plan, the programme for Government and the urgent need to act and to deliver. The Bill aims to amend the existing regulations and introduce new solar exemptions by way of primary legislation for further classes of building types in a manner broadly similar to the proposals currently being advanced by my Department, although the measures proposed are not as far-reaching or as comprehensive in nature. However, the Bill does not take into account the potential impact of glint and glare on aviation safety or the need to develop aviation safeguarding maps in this regard. Crucially, it also does not take account of the need for a strategic environmental assessment on the proposals as required under EU legislation, which must be complied with.

I also have reservations about using primary legislation, as proposed, to provide for these solar panel exemptions. The use of regulations or secondary legislation for this purpose is provided for under the Planning and Development Act and is a significantly more time-efficient means of dealing with this matter should any further amendments to the exemptions be deemed necessary or appropriate in the future. Senator Cummins mentioned the urgency of moving this process forward. I believe this will address that.

I broadly welcome this Private Members' Bill and the spirit in which it has been introduced by the Green Party Senators. However, while the Bill has the same objective as the amending regulations being progressed by my Department, and while I am not opposing it, it does have certain deficiencies, as I have outlined. Accordingly, while I am supportive of the general thrust of the Bill, I would prefer to continue with my Department's existing approach for amending the solar panel exemptions and to bring forward the interim draft regulations for the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas, as required under planning legislation, by the fourth quarter of 2021, following the conclusion of the SEA process. This is considered to be a more robust and comprehensive approach. Once this process is completed, it would be the intention of my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning, Deputy Peter Burke, to immediately sign the interim regulations and to subsequently sign the final regulations as early as possible following the conclusion of the aviation safety mapping exercise around airports and aerodromes.

I thank the Minister of State very much. It is quite an historic day. When I rang around all of the different groups, including the Civil Engagement Group which cannot be here today, they were all supportive of the Bill. This can be contrasted with some of the behaviour in the Dáil, which is not quite the same when it comes to climate change. It is really important that we put that on the record. Senator Mullen is correct; it is our job to point out what may be deficiencies in Bills and to bring forward amendments on Committee State. We should take that on board.

However, it is important to remember that although Senators raised certain issues, they have all said they are absolutely behind the Bill. It should be noted on the record that there is nothing wrong with amending regulations through primary legislation. Senator Martin stated that is what this Bill is doing. It is looking at the regulations because that is what we, as Senators, can do.

It is also our job to put pressure, with all due respect, on the Department of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. I know he appreciates that and is behind us in that regard. I am delighted that the work is ongoing, but the Bill is before the House and will make its way through the Oireachtas. As many Senators have stated, this is an urgent issue and we have to use everything in our arsenal to address it.

The Bill is actually about catching up with the kids. Senator Garvey mentioned that children are coming to us and telling us that this is what needs to happen and we should just do it. One has to try to explain to them that the law says this, that and the other. Many of the Senators who contributed, including Senators Seery Kearney and Moynihan, stated that they did not know previously that there is a restriction in terms of the requirement for planning permission. Why would anybody think that one would need that kind of level of planning permission for a school, of all things? As I mentioned, some schools have reported paying €3,500 for architectural drawings just to get solar panels up. That is not required for domestic properties. That is where the difference lies and it is why it is important to put these kinds of things on the record.

Some people have asked what the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 is about. To some, it all seems so cerebral and long term but, actually, this is what it is about. Climate action is about the things we do in schools in order to make it easier to get climate action across the board. With all respect to Senators who have spoken today and previously on this issue, there is a tendency for some of them to engage in a bit of whataboutery when it comes to climate action. They say that whatever little thing one is doing is grand, but ask what is being doing for the rest of the planet or what we are doing in terms of climate justice outside Ireland. We are doing that too but we need to address this issue as well. Children are among the most vulnerable because they are the ones who will be left with the legacy of this planet, so it is not correct to say that others, including other adults, across the planet are more vulnerable. We do not know that will necessarily be the case.

We know that what we can do, as Senators, is to bring forward the Bill and I am delighted that we have done so today. I am delighted with the support we have received in that regard. It will put pressure on the Department of the Minister of State. I refer once again to the work that has been done by Friends of the Earth Ireland and all of the students and green committees across Ireland who are looking at ways to improve their schools. Some of them have come up with this bright idea to put solar panels in place, only to find themselves hamstrung at every turn. We, as elected representatives, are here to make sure that does not happen and that we remove all of the financial and all other barriers. I appreciate the support of all present. I thank the Minister of State. All of the Green Party Senators are committed to doing all we can in future to support him in any way he needs to ensure the Bill gets over the line.

I pay tribute to Senator Pauline O'Reilly and her colleagues on bringing forward the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Monday, 5 July 2021.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. in the convention centre.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.05 p.m until 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 June 2021.