Wednesday 26 June 2019

'We are dancing with anger'

Maria Herlihy

The people of Ballydesmond are "dancing with anger" at Kerry County Council's decision to grant planning permission for a 40-battery storage unit, equipment and transformers in Ballynahulla.

At a public meeting last Wednesday night which saw just shy of 300 people turn up there was a "sense of shock, disbelief and horror" at the granting of planning permission to Redfaze Limited, who are based in Lissarda. 

Fred O'Sullivan of the Sliabh Luachra Awareness Group said: "There was huge emotion at the meeting and anger. People were dancing with anger at what could be done to their community. When it came to putting up a show of hands to appeal this decision to An Bord Pleanala, a sea of hands shot up." 

"What people are equally horrified about is that there was no public consultation about this planning. I was out cycling and just happened to see the planning notice and began doing my own research. As the meeting on Wednesday night was our second public meeting, there were a number of people there who were not at the first meeting. They couldn't contain their emotion and horror," he said. 

Mr O'Sullivan said for him it was "beyond comprehension" that KCC granted permission on health and safety and environmental grounds. 

"In January of this year, Longford County Council refused planning for six battery storage units on the grounds of health and safety but yet, Kerry County Council grants planning for 40. I just don't understand it. The entire thing is difficult to comprehend," he said. 

He felt that Ballydesmond has got "enough of a bashing from wind turbines" as it is. 

"If you stand on the top of Ballynahulla there are 52 turbines. We have had enough. But what was very uplifting was the strong community spirit at the public meeting. People want to and will take this all the way to An Bord Pleanala. This really is the last straw for the people of Ballydesmond," he said. 

Mr O'Sullivan said: "If this is built and it does go ahead then it will be the end of Ballydesmond as what parent will drop their child to the school or crèche and go to work and then wait on a possible call that a battery unit has gone on fire," he said. 

Anita O'Sullivan Wharton also told The Corkman that there was a huge mixture of emotions at the packed meeting. 

"There was anger, shock, disbelief and fear. It was all there. One man spoke and then had to leave as he just couldn't fathom what was happening to Ballydesmond. For the majority of people it was the first time that they were hearing all about the battery units," she said.  She said that it wasn't just people from Ballydesmond who attended - as there was numerous people from Kilcummin, Millstreet, Newmarket and Scartaglin. 

Planning was granted to Redfaze Limited whose company directors are listed as Michael Murnane, David Murnane and Stephen O'Connor.

 There was a mammoth submission to KCC which ran to 594 pages of which there was over 60 formal objections along with a group signature of 200 names. 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 home. Others stated Sliabh Luachra"has been turned into an industrial mine field," and the abundant wildlife of the area is already being compromised, amid a plethora of other deeply-held fears regarding the impact of the units on the community. 

In the mammoth file to KCC Andrew O'Donoghue on behalf of Redfaze Limited furnished a number of reports in support of their application including an NIS (Natura Impact Statement) along with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). 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 sated that there would be "no effect on the environment." 

"The potential impact of the construction and the operational phrases 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. 

A report also outlined that Japanese Knotweed was recorded outside the purposed 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."

However, Mr O'Sullivan said that the community will take this fight all the way to An Bord Pleanala. The Sliabh Luachra Awareness Group are now in the final stages of lodging their appeal to An Bord Pleanala.