Planning squeeze hinders solar power projects

Some projects have been waiting more than a year for approval, undermining their advantage of speedy development, industry group says

Planning bottlenecks are delaying many green energy projects, threatening the Republic’s ability to meet its climate targets, an industry group has warned.

The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) wants new laws eliminating delays at An Bord Pleanála which have left key projects waiting more than a year for approval.

Conall Bolger, the association’s chief executive, says the board is taking more than twice the legally-mandated 18 weeks to decide appeals on solar farm projects.

His organisation warns that the delays are hindering the Republic “from reaching key climate goals”. Those aims include generating 80 per cent of electricity from renewable sources such as solar power.


More than eight out of 10 solar developments win approval when they are appealed, says Mr Bolger, and they take less time to build than most other green energy power plants. However, the ISEA has found that the board takes almost 37 weeks on average to decide on cases which should get rulings within 18 weeks.

According to the association, of 41 appeals lodged since the start of 2020 the board has decided on only 27.

Nine have been awaiting decisions for longer than the legal time limit, a further four are outstanding for more than a year, while one development waited 73 weeks before getting approval, the group said.

Departures and staff shortages led to a backlog of cases at An Bord Pleanála, the board explained in a statement. It has appointed 15 new members and is hiring new staff. “This will provide the necessary capacity to address current delays in determining cases over time,” it added.

Mr Bolger observed that planning delays eliminate one key benefit of solar: that the plants can be built quickly.

“Solar can progress through planning faster than many other renewable technologies,” he pointed out. “This speed of light is completely undermined if potential solar farms are mired in the planning process.”

He acknowledged that planners must scrutinise solar developments, but argued that it was not acceptable that the process took eight months or longer.

“We need new legislation to protect against vexatious appeals by individuals who have no vested interest,” Mr Bolger declared. “Furthermore, the revised planning system must provide certainty to all applicants about the maximum timelines involved.”

He noted that there was widespread recognition that An Bord Pleanála was not tackling the housing crisis.

“We need the same level of recognition that planning is delaying decarbonisation,” Mr Bolger added. He argued that the board should be reformed and given enough resources and expertise to decide cases on time.

An Bord Pleanála said it had different types of cases awaiting rulings. “The board will be applying different prioritisation to those cases and will therefore not deal with cases in chronological order,” it said in a statement.

“The board has decided that this is the best way to manage its backlog in the most effective way possible,” it added.

Mr Bolger pointed out that the United Nations recently warned that the Earth faces an era of global boiling.

“Ireland needs to take rapid action to decarbonise our electricity system,” he warned, adding that the solar industry was ready to deliver. “But too often it is being stymied by planning barriers, as a country we can and must address this.”

The planning board said it would “work as expeditiously as possible” to clear its backlog of cases. It has apologised to those whose applications and appeals face delays.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas