Farmyard waste to power parish

Dónal Nolan

Upwards of 1,700 homes in Causeway will be running on electricity generated locally by the summer as plans for an anaerobic power plant in the parish begin to take shape.

Causeway man Tim Leahy is currently in the process of developing what will be Ireland's first 'anaerobic digester' power plant driven by agricultural produce, in the townland of Dromkeen adjoining Causeway Comprehensive secondary school.

Once operational, the plant will provide enough electricity to the grid to power all the 1,700 plus homes in the village and parish.

Meanwhile, water heated in a secondary function of the digestion process is to be pumped directly into the local secondary school and adult education centre in a move that is expected to drastically reduce the cost of heating for each of these premises.

Mr Leahy insists the plant will not cause any local pollution, emit noxious smells or attract vermin.

"It's a completely renewable form of generating electricity that is widely used across Germany, Europe, the UK and Northern Ireland. In fact, these kind of plants should be operating in every parish in Ireland as they are completely environmentally-friendly with no carbon emissions," Mr Leahy told The Kerryman.

Work is now underway on the site in Dromkeen and the plant is expected to be fully operational by July or August.

"Anaerobic digesters work by taking in silage, maize, farmyard manure and extracting the gases that are naturally emitted from these out of them. This is then put into a gas engine that drives a dynamo which in turn generates the electricity we will sell into the grid.

"We will be using our own silage and maize produce, with local farmers bringing slurry to us and all of it will be pumped into self-contained units underground which are fully sealed, so there shouldn't be any smells from the plant or impact on the local environment of any kind," Mr Leahy said.

With the gas extracted and the electricity generated, Mr Leahy will be left with a residue that's rich in phosphorus, nitrogen and potash which will be returned to participating local farmers in exchange for slurry they give to feed the plant.

The plant is the brainchild of Mr Leahy's brother Maurice who witnessed firsthand the benefits of the energy technology while in Germany. Both brothers have since travelled widely across Europe, England and Scotland learning firsthand how the anaerobic facilities operate.

"The plants we saw were pristine with no problems whatsoever and it's a model of generating power most countries are now pursuing," Mr Leahy said.

Principal of Causeway Comprehensive School Lucille O'Sullivan said that she welcomed the development as a boon for the running of the well-known secondary in terms of cutting massive heating costs into the future.