Scotland considers waiving commercial solar rooftop planning permission

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In a move welcomed by the Scottish Solar Trade Association (STA Scotland), the country’s government has yesterday launched a consultation, "Permitted Development Rights for non-domestic solar panels and domestic air source heat pumps," to consider removing the need for planning permission for commercial solar rooftop projects. Responses are requested by August 27.

Currently, commercial solar PV and thermal rooftop projects in Scotland up to 45 kW and 50 kW, respectively, are not required to apply for planning permission; domestic installations are also exempt.

Different options

England made a similar move to waiver planning permission for commercial solar installations in April, however, it placed a 1 MW cap on project size. Finlay Colville, head of market intelligence at Solar Media Limited told pv magazine, "Any decision by the Scottish Government may prompt DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] to follow suit and remove the 1MW barrier still in place." He added that "strong deployment" of commercial solar PV rooftops could occur in Scotland in 2016, with all the signs "positive for a sustainable market going forward."

The aim of Scotland is to ensure parity in permitted development rights between Scotland and England, due to the fact many manufacturers and installers have business bases in both countries.

The Scottish Government has identified four options available for solar PV technologies, including adopting the provisions in England (option 2). However, it states that placing a cap on the size of the installation is "not a primary concern" and, as such, recommends option 3, which will adopt just some of the English provisions.

The potential advantages of adopting the new provisions under option 3 would include, for the PV sector, the possibility for businesses to collect government tariff payments from solar without costs for planning applications; a shorter period from quote to installation for installers; and a greater number of solar panel orders for manufacturers as the micro-generation restriction on permitted development would effectively be lifted.

The Scottish Government further calculates that of the 831 non-domestic PV installations currently registered under the FIT, a planning application fee saving of £167,862 would have been possible, which would also help lower costs for customers.

Coleville continued, "The recommendation to remove planning consent requirements by the Scottish Government represents another tangible step forward in creating a viable large-scale rooftop segment. There is now a growing voice, both from trade associations, government and developers to finally unlock the large rooftop market in the UK."

Also applauding the move, STA Scotland’s chairman, John Forster, said, "This will help enormously in fulfilling Scotland’s solar potential and fulfilling Scotland’s 100% renewables target. But most importantly, it will make it easier for Scottish businesses to save money on their energy bills by putting solar on their roofs."

The new commercial solar rooftop permitting rights would not apply to buildings of archaeological interest, or listed buildings, for example, or those contained in a world heritage site or conservation area.

Boosting the Scottish solar sector, WWF Scotland said in May the renewable energy could meet all of Scotland’s power needs, with data from WeatherEnergy and WWF Scotland revealing that there was enough sunshine in Scotland in April to meet 100% of the electricity needs of the average Scottish household.

Currently, solar PV systems are fitted on 35,000 Scottish homes and atop 600 business premises.