Date: 07 Oct 2022 New planning permission exemptions for rooftops The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, has signed into law revised planning exemptions for the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of houses and certain non-domestic buildings. The exemptions are aimed at increasing Ireland’s generation of solar energy and combating climate change. The changes take immediate effect. Under the revised regulations the following is now allowed: For solar panel installations on houses: there is no limit to the area of solar panels which can be installed on rooftops of homes, anywhere in the country. Solar installations will be able to cover the entire roof of a house. The 12sqm/ 50% roof limit which previously applied to houses has been removed nationwide. For solar panel installations on rooftops of all other existing classes of development (Industrial; Light Industrial and Business Premises; Agricultural): rooftop solar installations covering the entire roof are exempt from requiring planning permission. However, in the 43 designated Solar Safeguarding Zones, a rooftop limit remains. Solar Safeguarding Zones are areas where rooftop limitations on solar panel installations apply, to mitigate the potential impact of glint and glare near airports, aerodromes and other sites with helipads like hospitals. The existing exemption of 50 square metres or less for the entire development has been increased to a rooftop limit of 300 square metres. Apartments; educational building/ health centre or hospital/ recreational or sports facility/ place of worship/ community facility or centre/ library/ certain public utility sites: exemptions have been introduced for the first time for the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of such buildings, subject to conditions and limitations and the rooftop area limit in solar safeguarding zones where applicable. Exemptions for wall-mounted and free-standing solar panel installations: free-standing solar panel installations for houses are exempted from the requirement to obtain planning permission subject to a 25 square metre area limit and conditions requiring a certain amount of private open space to be maintained for the use of occupants. The exempted area for all other categories except apartments is increased to 75 square metres. In addition, wall mounted solar installations of 75 square metres are exempted for industrial and agricultural. Exemptions in relation to installations under points 1, 2 and 3 above are subject to, among other things, minor setback distances from the edge of the roof. Points 1-4 above are also subject to general restrictions on exempted development including those regarding protected structures and Architectural Conservation Areas. These regulations aim to bring Ireland into line with the EU’s Solar Rooftops Initiative by making permitting procedures for installing solar on rooftops shorter and simpler. It supports a target of installing up to 380MW (approximately 1 million solar panels) of microgeneration capacity as part of Ireland’s overall solar targets under the government’s Climate Action Plan. This would generate over 300 GWh of renewable electricity per annum, with the potential to abate 1.4 million tonnes of CO2eq over the lifetime of the installations. The regulations will also support the rollout of small-scale generation and act as an enabler for the Small-Scale Generation Support Scheme (SSG ), which is expected to become available next year. Regulations and their objective The exemptions are set out in the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 3) Regulations 2022 (S.I. No. 493 of 2022) and the supporting Planning and Development (Solar Safeguarding Zone) Regulations 2022(S.I. No. 492 of 2022). The regulations combine to provide the updated provisions regarding planning exemptions for rooftop solar installations. These regulations aim to bring Ireland into line with the EU’s Solar Rooftops Initiative by making permitting procedures for installing solar on rooftops shorter and simpler. It supports a target of installing up to 380MW (approximately 1 million solar panels) of microgeneration capacity as part of Ireland’s overall solar targets under the government’s Climate Action Plan. This would generate over 300 GWh of renewable electricity per annum, with the potential to abate 1.4 million tonnes of CO2eq over the lifetime of the installations. The regulations will also support the rollout of small-scale generation and act as an enabler for the Small-Scale Generation Support Scheme (SSG ), which is expected to become available next year. Solar safeguarding zones Solar safeguarding zones, which constitute less than 3% of the country’s land area, are necessary to address aviation safety concerns due to the potential impact of glint and glare arising from increased solar developments in proximity to sites such as airports and hospitals (which have helipads). Anyone seeking to avail of larger rooftop solar installations within solar safeguarding zones can apply for planning permission through the relevant local planning authority. Solar exempted developments within a solar safeguarding zone for all classes other than houses must be notified to the planning authority within 4 weeks of the development commencing. How the 300sqm limitation per roof works in practice The limits for rooftop, wall mounted and free-standing are stand-alone limits. Therefore, in the case of an agricultural holding within a SSZ with two agricultural structures, the following can be installed under the exemptions, subject to the energy generated being used primarily (greater than 50%) for use within the curtilage of the agricultural holding: 300sqm of panels on the roof of each agricultural structure = 600sqm total 75sqm total on all walls 75sqm total free-standing panels total overall= 750sqm Whether energy generated using the exemption can be sold back to the grid There are no restrictions on the energy generated from solar installations on a house. Therefore, excess energy generated by a household may be sold back to the grid. All other classes have a restriction that the installation shall be primarily for the production of energy for use within the building or sites’ curtilage. The intention behind this limitation is to ensure that the buildings remain in use and do not change to a commercial energy generating use with the building falling vacant or derelict. As outlined in the Climate Action Plan, the focus of the review of these regulations was on micro-generation and on facilitating the generation of electricity for self-consumption. The exemptions for all classes (with the exception of houses) only apply where the installation relates primarily to the provision of electricity or heating for use within the curtilage of the building or site. “Primarily” is defined to mean greater than 50%. What the general restrictions are on exempted development in respect of protected structures and Architectural Conservation Areas Both the Planning and Development Act 2000 (the Act) and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (the Regulations) contain provisions for the protection of, amongst other things, protected structures and Architectural Conservation Areas by way of restrictions on exempted development. These provisions apply to the current solar planning exemptions and have not been amended as part of the current review. Under the legislation, the carrying out of works to a protected structure, or a proposed protected structure, shall be exempted development only if those works would not materially affect the character of the structure. The carrying out of works to the exterior of a structure located in an Architectural Conservation Area shall be exempted development only if those works would not materially affect the character of the area. Further, the new exemptions contain a condition that de-exempts free-standing panels that would materially affect the character of an Architectural Conservation Area. With regard to what would materially affect the character of a protected structure or Architectural Conservation Area and any uncertainty as to when planning permission is required, a person may contact the relevant planning authority and seek a declaration under section 5 of the Act that will confirm the position. In addition, a declaration in relation to a protected structure may be sought under section 57 of the Act by the owner or occupier of the structure. Public utility sites covered by the exemption Sites for the provision of gas, electricity, telecommunications services or water supplies or wastewater services operated by a statutory undertaker. Grants available for solar panel installation A solar electricity grant is available through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) Solar PV Scheme. The scheme is funded under the Microgeneration Support Scheme, a government funded support Scheme introduced to provide a range of supports to assist homes to develop renewable generation for self-consumption. The Scheme provides a grant towards the purchase and installation of a solar PV system on a domestic dwelling. Clean Export Guarantee (CEG) The Clean Export Guarantee (CEG) tariff represents the first phase of a comprehensive enabling framework for micro- and small-scale generators in Ireland, allowing them to receive remuneration from their electricity supplier for all excess renewable electricity exported to the grid. Following a public consultation, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) published a decision on an interim enabling framework for the CEG on 1 December 2021. The paper is available on the CRU website . This decision outlines the interim arrangements for the implementation of the CEG, including eligibility criteria and the remuneration methodology. The CRU has decided upon a competitive market-based approach to the setting of this tariff, as well as a number of provisions to ensure that its implementation aligns with the National Smart Metering Programme. All suppliers have now published their CEG tariffs, which range from €13.5c/kWh up to €20c/kWh. This allows customers to shop around and switch suppliers to obtain the best rates for selling and purchasing electricity. On 15 February 2022, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications signed the regulations which provide the legal basis for the introduction of the CEG. Many small-scale generators will also be renewables self-consumers, and therefore eligible to receive the CEG. Further information on the CEG can be found on the CRU website. Micro-generation Support Scheme (MSS) On 21 December 2021, Minister Ryan announced government approval of the Micro-generation Support Scheme (MSS). The MSS has been introduced on a phased basis throughout 2022, rolling out supports for micro-generation technologies up to 50kW. The MSS now offers supports to new domestic and non-domestic customers in the form of capital grants of up to €2,400 for micro-generation installations up to 6kW. The final phase of the MSS is expected by end of 2022 when the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) will consult on an implementation plan for the Clean Export Premium (CEP) tariff. The Clean Export Premium is a guaranteed export tariff support for new installations which is fixed for 15 years and will be available to non-domestic applicants between 6kW and 50kW in size. Further details on the MSS can be found on the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications website. Small-Scale Generation (SSG) The Climate Action Plan 2021 commits to the development of a support scheme for small-scale non-domestic renewable electricity generators. These are defined as being above 50kW, but smaller than those supported under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS). The design of the scheme is currently being progressed and is expected to become available in 2023. This scheme will enable larger businesses, farms, community projects and others to maximise their participation in the energy transition. A consultation on proposed high-level design features of the scheme has now been published and is available on the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications website. The closing date for submissions is Thursday, 13 October 2022. Climate Action Plan 2021 The Climate Action Plan 2021 provides a detailed plan for taking decisive action to achieve a 51% reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and setting us on a path to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. The plan lists a series of actions which will be undertaken to deliver on our climate targets in addition to outlining indicative renewable electricity capacity targets of up to 8GW of onshore wind and between 1.5–2.5GW solar PV capacity by 2030. Of this renewable electricity capacity at least 500 MW will be delivered through community-based projects, subject to competition as appropriate. The government agreement on the Sectoral Emissions Ceilings, announced on 28 July, increased the target for solar PV under the Climate Action Plan from the initial target of up to 2.5GW to a revised target of up to 5.5GW. Targets were also increased for off-shore wind (from 5GW to 7GW), green hydrogen (an additional 2GW), agro-forestry and anaerobic digestion (up to 5.7TWh of biomethane) – to further accelerate the reduction of overall economy-wide emissions.