Construction of Ireland’s largest solar development has been given the green light after planning permission was granted to Hadstone Energy’s 46MW solar farm in County Antrim.

However, the project faces a race against time to be completed as it will need to be connected by 31 March 2017 if it is to benefit from the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) which is due to close next year.

Philip Deeks, director at Hadstone Energy, said: “We face a real challenge to connect the solar farm within the next 12 months, but we are hopeful that SONI [the electricity system operator] and NIE [DNO] will do everything they can to make this work.

“At the moment we are just very pleased to have been granted planning permission for such a great solar farm site.” 

The planning application for the South Antrim solar park was submitted in June 2015 and according to recent data from the Irish Solar Energy Association is the largest solar park in development in Ireland.

More sites are expected, with many looking to Ireland as a new market following the decline of government subsidies in other areas of the UK. While Northern Ireland can expect larger developments like Hadstone Energy’s to be rushed to completion before the March 2017 deadline, the Republic of Ireland is thought to offer different prospects.

Currently it has no financial support in place to support solar deployment and a new framework similar to the feed-in tariff had been expected to be announced in June.

However, Solar Power Portal understands that changes in civil servant personnel developing the scheme and a log jam caused by delays in selection of a new government have pushed this back to the autumn.

The government will then have to apply for state aid approval from the European Union, with the tariffs not likely to be made available until Q2 2017.

Sites are already being developed south of the border, even without a support mechanism however these are likely to be smaller than the near 50MW site being developed in County Antrim. The ISEA expects most sites to be 4.95MW or less as it claims ESB – the one DNO in the Republic of Ireland – is required to give a connection offer within 90 days for sites of this size.

For more insight into the growing Irish market, click here for coverage from the Clean Energy Summit.