Willow farmers rocked as power plant rejected
The decision of An Bord Pleanála to refuse planning permission for a biomass power plant in Balrath, Co Meath is potentially a serious blow to willow growers in the region.
The Combined Heat and Power plant proposed by Shamrock Renewable Fuels Ltd, a joint venture between Farrelly Brothers of Carnaross and HDS Energy of Kells Business Park, had received planning permission from Meath Co Council but this was overturned by An Bord Pleanála following an appeal by local residents.
Pat Farrelly of Farrelly Brothers described the decision as shocking, "with the country in such a state it is unbelievable that 300 potential jobs would be thrown away like that. Down the road this operation had the potential to create 5,000 jobs."
Asked about the future for the farmers who are growing or intend to grow willow to supply the plant, Mr Farrelly said there is no change in those plans.
"We have about 240 farmers lined up to grow willow. Up to 2,500ac is already under plantation with a further 4,000-5,000ac due to be planted in March. The only hold up at the moment is in relation to the forms for grant aid because they only came out last week."
Mr Farrelly explained that while some farmers have plans for substantial willow plantations, the average acreage to be planted by individual farmers is 15-20ac.
Asked about the security of the market for the willow Mr Farrelly is confident. "You must remember that the first crop of willow won't mature for three years and the crop is harvested every two years after that. In three years time there will be a huge demand for willow, from the (Bord na Mona) plant in Rhode and from private consumers given the amount of wood burners being installed. We also intend to go further in our attempts to have our project up and running."