How a small village got on to the national grid
A SMALL village in the Slieve Felim Mountains has become the site of the country's first community-owned wind farm.
A group of local residents hold shares in the project in Templederry, Co Tipperary, which is now providing enough electricity to power 3,000 homes for a year.
The two-turbine 4.6 megawatt (MW) wind farm was developed over the course of the past decade at a cost of €6.2m, and is expected to return €1.2m-a-year to investors and the local community.
Semi-retired farmer John Fogarty (64), the joint chairman of the community company running the wind farm, explained the idea came about after locals commissioned a community development plan in 1999.
A core group canvassed for support and eventually 29 locals stumped up €1,000 per head to finance a planning application in 2003.
Although planning was granted without any local objection, it was not all plain sailing, said Mr Fogarty, a father of four who once worked as a radio officer in the merchant navy.
The group was in the process of seeking access to the national grid when a moratorium on connections was announced, which would last for three-and-a-half years.
By that stage the turbines they had originally selected were no longer being manufactured and their planning permission was running out. So another planning application had to be submitted in 2007, this time in the face of some objections. It was approved by An Bord Pleanala in 2009.
The economic crisis also threatened to throw their plans off course.
The group had been in negotiations with Dutch lender Triodos, a so-called ethical bank which finances cultural and environmentally beneficial projects. However, during the discussions, the bank's board decided to pull out of the Irish market.
At this stage Enercon, a German turbine company, rowed in to help. They put the group in contact with De Lage Landen, a subsidiary of Rabobank, and a financing package was worked out.
"Despite every obstacle, it turned out positively eventually," said Mr Fogarty.
The turbines began producing electricity in 2012 and the group hope that investors will begin seeing a return in six to eight years time. As well as the shareholdings held by the initial 29 investors, two additional shareholdings have been created for the broader community.
Once the project moves into the black, dividends from the community shareholdings will result in cash being ploughed into local causes.
There are ongoing costs associated with operating the turbines, including an €80,000-a-year maintenance contract, insurance, rent and eventually rates for the county council.
Mr Fogarty believes any rural community can achieve what his group has – provided it can gain access to the national grid.
"Ideally there should be a portion of the national grid ringfenced for small communities, so they don't have to compete with the big operators," he said. "Wind is a huge opportunity for Ireland. I regard each turbine that goes up as another tanker load of oil that doesn't have to be imported every year. It would make a huge difference to the balance of payments for the country."