Farm Ireland

Saturday 19 January 2019

Solar farm pledges €180,000 per year to rural community

Caroline Foxe from Foulksmills and Eamon O’Rourke from Horetown with Peter Kavanagh from Highfield Solar (centre)
Caroline Foxe from Foulksmills and Eamon O’Rourke from Horetown with Peter Kavanagh from Highfield Solar (centre)

David Looby

The Wexford developers behind a 390 acre solar farm planned for the Clongeen area have said a €180,000 annual payment will be made to the local community if the project goes ahead.

Highfield Solar Ltd are about to submit a planning application to Wexford County Council to erect solar panels on up 390 acres of land at Coolciffe, Raheenduff, Haresmead and Rospile for a 35-year period.

In a submission to Wexford County Council the company stated that the proposed site would be developed over a number of landholdings.

The company proposal states: "The solar panels will be mounted on long racks to form arrays which will be laid out running east to west across the site, facing towards the south. Each array will be a maximum height of 3.2m, with the solar panels tilted at an angle of 22 degrees to 35 degrees in order to maximise sun gain."

The arrays would be fixed into the ground and do not require concrete foundations, leaving the land around and beneath the modules as grassland. An electrical substation compound would be erected on site also, along with security fencing and transformer units.

Local residents were notified in early February about the company's intention to create the solar energy farm and since that time some farmers are understood to have given permission for their land to be used.

The project is being developed by Peter Kavanagh from Kilanerin and John O'Connor from Rathnure, backed by investors fom the UK and Germany.

The company held an information meeting on Wednesday in St Aidan's Hall in Clongeen which was attended by around 30 people over a three hour period. Due to an error the wrong date was published in this newspaper for the event.

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Peter said: "We are not obliged to do community engagement but feel it is best practice and ran a meeting on February 5 which around 50 people attended and we had an information evening again last Wednesday. We had six staff present to answer queries and had a lot of information on display, as well as sample solar panels.

"We offered to bring people to an existing solar farm in UK or Northern Ireland, but there were no takers. We hope to submit planning in the coming weeks."

Peter said the majority of people expressed concern about the development at last week's meeting.

He said solar energy companies are waiting the final decision by Government on the Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS). A consultation was completed last September and the plan proposes minimum levels of €2/MWh.

"If this is confirmed (and industry expects it shall be) then this would equate to an annual payment of €180,000 to the local community if the project qualified for RESS."

Peter said the German and UK partners bring with them a wealth of knowledge about technology.

He said everyone will have the opportunity to make submissions once planning is sought, adding that suggestions that there could be chemical leakages from the solar panels made at a recent public meeting in the village are ludicrous.

It will take up to three months for the local authority to either grant or refuse planning permission, following which there will be a one month window for the company or residents to appeal the decision to An Bord Pleanala.

"We have a similar situation in Meath and the application has been with An Bord Pleanala for 13 months. We are looking at going into construction in Clongeen in 2020. We would build it tomorrow if we could."

Describing solar power as the most benign form of renewable energy, Peter said the EU plans to have all countries fully decarbonised by 2050.

He said there are no plans to develop a wind farm on site, as suggested at the previous meeting chaired by Kieran Hartley.

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