Tuesday 21 May 2019

Residents angry as electricity battery facility gets green light

Maria Herlihy

There is "huge disappointment and anger" in Ballydesmond at the decision taken by Kerry County Council to grant planning permission for a battery storage facility which can store up to 40 battery units, transformers and associated equipment at Ballynahulla. 

Large storage batteries are being used increasingly throughout the world as a means of storing electricity generated through renewable means, such as wind energy, until it is needed for use in the wider electricity grid. Lithium ion is the most common rechargeable grid-scale battery type used.

The planning application by Redfaze Limited - whose company directors are listed as Michael Murnane, David Murnane and Stephen O'Connor - has its  registered address at Lissarda Business Park. 

In a mammoth 594 page submission to Kerry County Council, there was over 65 formal objections by residents throughout townlands in Ballydesmond and Gneeveguilla. In addition, there was countless pages of signatures submitted in the planning file who were also against the planning application by Redfaze Limited.  

Residents in the area, in their formal objections, cited that the battery storage units are "in their infancy in Ireland but in other countries it has been shown that lithium ion batteries are prone to self explode" ... "potentially causing major fires and toxic clouds." 

Many also stated that their region was already "awash in turbines" and residents felt they were being pushed out of their own homes. 

Others stated that Sliabh Luachra "has been turned into an industrial minefield" and that abundant wildlife in the area is already being compromised. 

Throughout the submission, residents also cited their huge worry about the batteries being close to residential property and just 3km from Ballydesmond village where there is a school, creche and various businesses. 

"This development will depreciate the value of our house," stated another objection. Others cited the "fire risk, toxic cloud, water contamination in rivers along with noise pollution". Many cited potential ecological damage along with the SPA protected Hen Harrier.  

 Within the detailed documents, two landowners at Ballynahulla have furnished their written consent to the proposed development on their lands.  Others were very critical of what they termed the "zero public consultation" with another saying the planning application was spotted "just by chance."

One objector, Anita O'Sullivan Wharton, said the route now for the many objectors in the area is to go down the An Board Pleanala road and final preparations are being made to furnish their appeal.  

She said that while she and her family are currently living in Newmarket they want to move back to Ballydesmond, where she is from and she is a native of Ballynahulla. 

"I have two children who go to childcare in Ballydesmond and if this battery compound goes ahead then we will not want to move back. My major concern is the potential for a fire to break out. If the smoke is inhaled from these batteries then the damage done to lungs is irreversible. This is a huge worry for the people of Ballydesmond," she said. 

"Should this battery storage unit go ahead and, based on the information from other countries, then there is a 70% chance that one of the batteries will go on fire. This means that when the robust alarm system that Kerry County Council has requested to be put in place goes off we, the people of Ballydesmond and surrounding area, have three to 10 minutes to evacuate our families beyond a 10km radius of the battery storage compound and not return until the battery fire burns itself out. 

"It can take up to 36 hours for one battery to burn out and given that there could be up to 40 batteries installed and a high chance of them catching fire, we could be out of our homes for weeks," stated Anita O'Sullivan Wharton. 

She said the State's battery compounds are built underground and residents must not be within a 10 miles radius of them. 

"As the crow flies, where I was brought up in Ballynahulla it is less than 1km from the battery compound and another resident is just 750 metres. Numerous objections were given to Kerry County Council on this and we are so disappointed that it was granted planning," she told The Corkman. 

She said "very little" is known in Ireland about these battery operated units and that planning has been granted already for a 39 battery storage compound at Caherdowney in Millstreet along with Listowel in Kerry. 

In the mammoth file, Andrew O'Donoghue, on behalf of Redfaze Limited, furnished a noise assessment prepared by AWN Consulting. There was also a pre-development Archaeological Assessment by Laurence Dunne Archaeology. Equally, there was an NIS (Natural  Impact Statement) prepared by McCarthy, Keville, O'Sullivan and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)  also prepared by the same company, who are based in Galway. 

Under the Environmental Impact Assessment Screening Document, it was stated that there would not be a risk to human health, water contamination/air pollution. 'The individual cells are held in protective casing and held securely in racks ensuring they do not get damaged. All surface water run off from the site will be directed through a full retention oil inceptor prior to release off site.' It also stated that there would be "no effect on the environment." 

"The potential impact of the construction and the operational phase of the proposed battery storage compound on human beings are not considered to be significant. During construction, there is potential for temporary minor impacts related to traffic inconvenience, dust and noise to occur. Appropriate control measures designed to avoid or minimise impact and standard best practice construction methodologies will be employed. The conifer plantation provides a natural buffer and insulate the site from surrounding human settlements," stated the submission. 

Consultants on behalf of Redfaze Ltd also stated that Japanese Knotweed was recorded outside the proposed development and will be "completely avoided". Its consultants also stated that the "proposed drainage development design has been proposed specifically with the intention of having no negative impact on the water quality of the site and its associated rivers and lakes, and consequently no impact on downstream catchment and ecological systems."

It was also stated in the submission to KCC  that the proposed development  will "contribute to Ireland meeting its European and International obligations in respect of delivering a secure, sustainable electricity system." 

Regarding noise from the proposed development, it was stated that, based on assessment, the battery storage units are below typical day and night time noise criteria that would be applied to operations of this nature. 

Regarding the Hen Harrier, the submission stated that the improved grassland at the location of the proposed location is "semi improved from slurry application and has been recently mown for silage. The habitat does not offer suitable nesting, foraging or roosting habitat for the Hen Harrier." 

It also stated that there is "no pre thicket forestry adjacent to the proposed development for nesting," and the proposed site is 300 metres away from the SPA with no suitable habitat within or immediately surrounding the site. 

Previously, Fred O'Sullivan, an objector, told The Corkman that he had spotted the planning application by chance in Ballynahulla when he was out cycling. He also said people were "very angry" at the lack of public consultation on the planning application. 

A public meeting was previously held on the planning application and a second meeting was held  last night (Wednesday) in Ballydesmond.  

One objector said: "There is no doubt about this but we are going the An Bord Pleanala route. We want proper answers to our many questions. We feel that Kerry County Council have not listened to what we have to say. There are so many questions to be answered about battery units and what we want is answers and we feel that we are just not getting them. We are very angry."