An Oireachtas committee has called on the Government to allow solar panels on agricultural buildings without planning permission in a bid to help farmers meet new climate targets.
In a report on Thursday the joint committee on agriculture said such measures were required to help meet the goal of installing solar panels on “every appropriate farm building” in the drive to cut carbon emissions. The report comes amid controversy in the farming world over binding targets on the sector to achieve a 25 per cent cut in emissions from 2018 levels by 2030.
The committee said renewable power “microgeneration” on farms could be a crucial support for agricultural revenues in the future. “The adoption and deployment of solar technology on farms has been identified as a key element in meeting these targets given its potential to offset input costs and act as a revenue generator, enhancing family farm incomes,” said Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, committee chairman.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy, who drafted the report, criticised the lack of a “coherent strategy” for solar power in agriculture. “While farmers in principle have the opportunity to generate solar energy at every scale a disjointed regulatory and support framework can make adoption seem overly burdensome and in practice limit or even disincentivise adoption.”
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The committee said it heard from several stakeholders that planning requirements were a limiting force on “solar ambition” because they led people to opt for smaller systems than would be optimal.
“The committee recommends that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage proceed as a matter of urgency regarding proposals to exempt solar panels on farm buildings from requiring planning permission, with a view to enacting an exemption without delay,” the report said.
It also called on the agriculture and climate departments to formulate a new strategy so that all suitable farm buildings could be used for solar power. Such departments were urged to hold talks with electricity companies and financial institutions to assess the viability of measures to offset upfront costs with low-interest loans or a tariff on excess electricity sold on to the national grid.
“The committee believes that a complex regulatory framework and disparate departmental responsibility over aspects of on-farm solar relating to regulation, microgeneration, and supports has resulted in a lack of transparency in relation to levels of adoption and the success of overall Government policy in achieving such,” the report said.
It also called on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the State body responsible for clean energy, to establish a bespoke scheme to back farmers using solar technology.
In addition, the committee called on the Government to explore potential to use battery or “alternative storage measures” with solar panels installed on agricultural buildings.
“The committee recommends that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications examine the potential of delivering a mechanism whereby farmers are able to store excess electricity generated through the national grid, receiving a comparative amount of energy or credit in return as needed.”