A conference on biomethane production in Ireland which took place in Dublin this week heard that planning permission is a major stumbling block for all forms of renewable energy in rural Ireland.

The issue was highlighted by Fianna Fáil TD and chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine Jackie Cahill, who took part in a panel discussion at the launch of a new biomethane roadmap on Wednesday (June 1).

The roadmap was developed by the Renewable Energy Forum for Ireland (RGFI), which organised the event.

Stakeholders from a number of sectors were present, including the agriculture sector.

A panel discussion was held in which both the opportunities and obstacles for a robust biomethane sector in Ireland were addressed.

Chief among the obstacles, Cahill highlighted, was planning permission. He stressed that his was an issue for several forms of renewables, including solar and wind.

“As a politician I am frustrated. In the Oireachtas agriculture committee we have had stakeholders coming into us who are trying to drive on this [renewable] agenda. There’s so many roadblocks in place [for them],” Cahill said.

“There’s a wind farm in Co. Meath that took 10 years to get planning permission. We need to get these roadblocks out of the system. If you need planning permission for solar panels on roofs, that should be an easy thing.

“If planning permission goes to An Bord Pleanála, that should be the end of it, rather than going to judicial review after that. We need common sense here,” Cahill argued.

He highlighted that there is a cross-party commitment to meet emissions reduction targets, and that biomethane is “obviously part of that”.

The conference was attended by Denis Drennan, the deputy president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), who addressed the issue with a comment from the floor.

Drennan reiterated the comments from Cahill, saying: “The planning process is the biggest headache for anyone who wants to do anything positive.”

“There’s a 32ac solar farm about two miles up the road from me, they are in planning for the last five years… I know of several examples of wind turbines being held up for six to eight years,” he said.

Drennan added: “Everyone in the country wants renewable energy, just not in their area. It’s the same thing with anaerobic digesters. If you want planning permission for one, then best of luck trying to get out the other side of it in five years.

“Are we going to solve the planning issue? We can have the best policies, the best intentions, the best ideas, but planning has held the whole thing up,” the ICMSA deputy president highlighted.

Responding the Drennan’s comments, Cahill said: “It’s a huge problem. We live in a democracy and everyone has the right to object, but it’s the ongoing objections… An Bord Pleanála makes the decision, then it goes for judicial review, and it goes on and on and on.

“That’s were the frustration comes in. We definitely have to streamline it. When a decision is made by An Bord Pleanála on a planning issue, that should be the end of the issue,” the Tipperary TD said.

He added: “We have seen in forestry the objections that were there, we know how held up forestry is, with people getting completely frustrated with it.

“Definitely Denis [Drennan] is right. It really frustrates people. They ask if it’s really worth the hassle, with the amount of money being invested in a project and the ongoing worries over whether you’ll get planning or not.

“That’s a barrier that is going to have to be streamlined if we are serious about getting these units in rural Ireland, whether it’s solar, wind or biomethane, whichever project it is,” Cahill argued.