TWO MAJOR SOLAR farm developments in county Limerick have been given the all-clear by the national planning authority.
Plans for the two renewable energy projects in Annacotty and Lisnagry from desperate developers were first submitted to the local council over 18 months ago.
Both projects were granted permission by Limerick’s local authority despite locals objecting that the developments posed potential health risks to those living nearby.
Some 45 people from the Annacotty area tried to overturn approval for a 12-hectare solar farm from a firm called Rengen Technologies on the grounds that it would be in close proximity to hundreds of family homes.
The locals added that the panels used to harness the solar power could cause serious health issues for people living in the area. They said that the solar panels give off electromagnetic waves that could potentially cause illness.
However, they also conceded that there is “limited availability” of health care literature evaluating the effects of general exposure to photovaltaic panels but this “should not be presumed to indicate a clean bill of health”.
“The absence of robust information cannot be taken as an answer or presented as an excuse in the event of any future negative health consequence,” the group said.
A residents group in Lisnagry made similar complaints against the plans for a 3.5-hectare solar farm in their area.
The project has been proposed by Irish firm Terra Solar, which has also applied to build a similar-sized development in Listowel, Co Kerry.
The locals also raised concern that there is a lack of available research on the health risks solar farms can cause to people living near these types of energy developments.
They added that the details of the application for planning permission are vague and do not include details of what types of panels will be used, which makes it harder to ascertain the amount of electromagnetic energy that will emanate from the solar farm.
In its published decisions for these two separate cases, An Bord Pleanála rejected the health concerns raised by residents.
The planning authority’s board referenced information submitted by Rengen Technologies highlighting a European Commission report from 2011. That report said there are no adverse health effects created by electromagnetic fields.
A separate An Bord Pleanála ruling for Terra Solar’s project in Lisnagry noted that the international scientific consensus is that there is no evidence to prove that electromagnetic fields cause any harm.
The planners also considered numerous other complaints about the solar farms, some regarding water drainage at the sites and others raising concerns about traffic from the construction and maintenance of the developments.
The national planning authority granted permission for both solar farms for a period of 25 years. After this period, the owners of the solar farms are required to reapply for permission to retain the developments.
Solar farms are a hot topic for local and national planning authorities in the Republic in recent years.
During 2017, a solar farm development was appealed once every two weeks to An Bord Pleanála, leading to a significant logjam of projects in the planning system.
Analysis by Fora of Irish planning data revealed that groups of concerned locals objected to 27 solar developments around the country between November 2016 to November 2017.
A lack of national guidelines for solar farms has been frequently cited as an issue that is holding up the development of a commercial solar industry in Ireland.