Saturday 16 December 2017

Plans for solar energy park near beauty spot

Robert Gerrard and Bernard Holland of Coolroe, Tintern, Ballycullane, beside the field for the proposed development of a solar energy park.
Robert Gerrard and Bernard Holland of Coolroe, Tintern, Ballycullane, beside the field for the proposed development of a solar energy park.

Niamh Keegan

Plans for Ireland's first solar energy park, close to the historical Tintern Abbey beauty spot, have been submitted to Wexford County Council.

If approved, Wexford Solar Energy will place thousands of solar panels across some 26 acres of agricultural land supplying electricity into the electricity grid, using the sun as the power source.

The brainchild behind the project is Meath-based Patrick Blunt, who is part owner of a wind farm in Co. Louth and another In Co. Donegal. Also involved are Dublin-based electrical engineer Niall McCoy, and local landowner Sarah O'Flaherty.

'There will be a solar industry in Ireland. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. The cost of developing solar has come down in recent years and we are on the same latitude as Germany and the UK where they already have quite a few solar parks,' said Mr. Blunt.

'Globally we are heading for environmental catastrophe unless we do something to lessen CO2 emissions, but this is a business opportunity as well,' he said, adding that the proposed solar farm would have three directors, one of whom would be the local landowner.

It isn't yet clear how many jobs the project would create, but it would not lead to any large scale employment opportunities.

'The Coolroe site is very suitable for this project because it is not very exposed in terms of visual impact, and its close to a grid connection point, as well as of course being in the sunny south east which has the highest level of solar energy in the country,'

Ballycullane residents, however, are divided over the plans. Denise and Bob Gerrard, who retired to the countryside some nine years ago, are dismayed at the prospect of what they dub 'acres of black glass' just three metres from their back garden.

'The directors didn't consult with the community about this and instead popped into local residents individually.

'These solar parks should not be placed close to residential properties. We are very concerned this will devalue our property and we won't even be able to move, because who wants to buy a house with a solar farm out the back?' Bob said.

Bernard Holland and his family, who have been living in the area for 12 years, are worried about the proximity of the panels to their house and potential impact to their health.

'This land floods in the wintertime I am not sure it is a suitable location. When I look out my bedroom window I will have those panels 50 metres away,' he said

Mr Blunt said that while he didn't put notices all over the place, he and landowner O'Flaherty did individually meet those who lived in the immediate area.

Currently there are no solar farms in Ireland, however, in February this year, planning permission was granted for a 5.1 megawatt solar farm in Northern Ireland by BNRG Northern Power, based in East Down, and is expected to deliver an investment of €7.6 million and employs just five people.

The farm proposed for Coolree is for a development of maximum export capacity of 5 megawatts with two electicity control buildings.

New Ross Standard

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