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Saturday 26 May 2018

Controversial 350-acre solar farm attracts 'excellent' response from farmers

The planning application is currently with Laois Co Co and if successful, is likely to be appealed to An Bord Pleanala by residents. Stock image.
The planning application is currently with Laois Co Co and if successful, is likely to be appealed to An Bord Pleanala by residents. Stock image.

Eoghan MacConnell

The company behind one of Ireland’s largest planned solar farms claimed they’ve had an “excellent” response from farmers seeking to lease land to the project.

Lightsource Renewable Energy Ltd has applied for permission to build a 76MW solar farm on 141 hectares of leased land near Stradbally in Co Laois. The planning application is currently with Laois Co Co and if successful, is likely to be appealed to An Bord Pleanala by residents who object to the scale of the farm and its proposed connection to a large substation planned nearby. 

Lightsource is one of the leading developer of large scale ground-mounted solar farms in Europe. It built its first solar farm on the island of Ireland in 2016. The project, located beside Belfast International Airport, currently supplies approximately 27pc of the energy for the airport. Lightsource has a further eight operational solar farms in Northern Ireland.

In the Republic, Lightsource has secured planning permission for two projects. One in Monraha, near Cahir, Co Tipperay and another in east Cork. The Cork plan is currently under appeal to An Bord Pleanala. A further application has been lodged with Meath Co Co and like the Co Laois proposal, it is at the further information stage in planning. Lightsource’s projects in the Republic range from 20 MW to approximately 76MW.

A spokesman for the company said “these projects are all on leased land. We have had an excellent response from farmers who want to seek an additional income from their land. Land used for solar farming is suitable for grazing by smaller livestock, particularly sheep.” 

Despite the positive feedback from farmers seeking additional income, there are some in Laois who are unhappy with the scale of the proposed development.

The Ratheniska, Timahoe, Spink Action Group has criticised the plan. In a statement, the group said, “the scale of this solar farm project is huge and based on connecting to the proposed Substation. The solar farm is larger in scale than discussed at local level and would have serious implications for the landscape in this area when combined with already proposed Eirgrid infrastructure.”

The action group has long objected to a nearby planned substation which is part of EirGrid’s Laois-Kilkenny Reinforcement Project.  “The proposed Solar Farm at Loughteague is the latest project to claim that EirGrid support connecting them to the Grid via the Laois-Kilkenny reinforcement project,” the group stated. 

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They fear the proposed substation will act as a hub for large scale renewable energy projects in the scenic area. 

However, Lightsource refuted the claims about the size of their project and said “the size of the project was reduced following consultation, from 79MW to 76MW. In total approximately 6pc of the total net land area was removed following consultation.” 

They explained that  “many areas of the solar farm do not contain panels. Wide field margins are left around each field boundary to avoid the panels being shaded by hedgerows and trees. Wide spaces are also left between each row to prevent the panels from shading each other and allow for grass cutting vehicles and tractors. This means that a significantly large proportion of the area occupied by a solar farm is open grassland.” 

Lightsource describe the project as low impact and said the “solar panels are under 2.5m in height and the site has been specifically selected because it is well screened.”

While they don’t make specific claims about jobs, the company said there will be some employment and activity during construction. If completed, the project would supply enough electricity for 18,100 households, provide a “significant” development contribution to the local authority and result in a reduction in EU fines for missing green targets, the company said. 

The company initially applied for permission last October and additional information was requested and provided to the authority in November.  


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