Under the Planning and Development Act, 2000, as amended (the Act), all development, unless specifically exempted under the Act or associated Regulations, requires planning permission. Section 4 of the Act and Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended (the Regulations), set out various exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Any such exemptions are subject to compliance with any general restrictions on exemptions set out in the Act or the Regulations and to the specific conditions set out in each class of exempted development in Schedule 2 of the Regulations. Included in the specific conditions set out in the Regulations are those applying to the installation of solar infrastructure on a variety of building types, including houses, businesses, industrial and agricultural.
As part of the Climate Action Plan 2019, my Department is currently undertaking a review of the solar panel exemptions, and is actively engaging with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications as well as other key stakeholders, with a view to finalising a proposal for draft amending Regulations to reflect, inter alia, technical developments in the sector. One of the key considerations of the review is to ensure that solar panels can be erected - subject to certain siting and size conditions - without the need to obtain planning permission, thereby facilitating more widespread generation of renewable energy for self-consumption. Also included in this review are solar panel exemptions for educational and community buildings.
The main outstanding issue that remains to be addressed in the current review is the potential for "glint and glare" impacts for aircraft and the need to ensure that they do not result in any real or potential threat to aviation safety. Accordingly, my Department is presently engaging with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications as well as the Irish Aviation Authority, in order to find a safe and workable solution in relation to this particular aspect of the review. The Department has begun the tendering process for this project, which will involve the development of aviation safeguarding maps for each airport/aerodrome in the country, and has received feedback from potential tenderers estimating a timeline of up to 9 months for its completion. As such, these maps, which are a fundamental aspect of any amendments to the exemptions, are expected to be finalised in Q3 2021.
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 an interim measure which would allow the revised regulations to be introduced prior to the completion of these maps, but with defined exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes for solar installations. My Department is consulting with the Irish Aviation Authority on this matter, and is working towards the development of draft regulations in this regard, the precise details of which have yet to be finalised.
As required under planning legislation, any such proposed exempted development regulations must be laid in draft form before the Houses of the Oireachtas and receive a positive resolution from both Houses before they can be made. The draft regulations will also be subject to screening under the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive 2001/42/EC to determine whether they are likely to have significant environmental effects. If there are significant effects, the undertaking of an SEA will be required, which will include public consultation.
The process for finalising the interim solar panel planning exemptions as referred to above, with exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes, is now expected to be completed by the end of Q1 2021. These interim regulations will allow for the vast majority of the country to be covered by the solar panel exemptions apart from those areas in close proximity to airports and aerodromes..
The overall process for updating the solar panel planning exemptions to include the completed aviation safeguarding maps for airports and aerodromes is still expected to be completed by Q4 2021.