Powering a rural revolution
BALLYNAGRAN is literally the Greenest part of the county and aims to become even Greener with an holistic appoach to energy saving, cutting carbon emissions and self -sufficiency.
It is aiming to create the world's first rural zero carbon district under a plan that would see it switch totally to green power, transport and production within a decade.
By 2020, they hope to have wind turbines, biomass energy production and solar panels supplying power, electric vehicles on every driveway, rainfall harvesting to save on water, community allotments and orchards for food production.
Another ambitious project is possibly reopening the long abandoned Glenealy railway station to take advantage of the Dublin-Rosslare train.
The Ballynagran Energy Plus committee showcased some of the energy saving measures implemented since the start of the ambitious programme recently.
During a tour of the area the committee outlined how energy saving measures such as solar panels and external insulation have benefited the local committee.
The measures have been retro fitted to 77 rural homes, a school, church, community hall and a factory as part of the Ballynagran Energy Plus initiative.
Money for the scheme came from a number of Government grants and – significantly – an environmental levy imposed on waste contractor Greenstar's Ballynagran landfill.
Ballynagran energy committee chairman Hubert Laird said that around 135 homes close to the landfill qualify for a small grant scheme of up to €5,000 per home, while community projects within about 3km of the landfill qualify for grants of up to €100,000.
While many locals were bitterly opposed to the landfill, most are now pragmatic and the money – about €250,000 a year with a total fund of some €1.4 million at the end of 2011 – is being used to provide some lasting benefit to householders.
Hubert Laird says that most homes don't require major investment to reduce their heating bills substantially.
He has availed of a grant of €5,000 towards the €20,000 cost of refitting double glazing to his home.
The tour also takes in a visit to O'Hanlon Herbs in Glenealy where the Ballynagran Committee is advising on the installation of a woodchip boiler.
The cost is about €350,000 and around 35 per cent of that will be borne by a grant from the Department of Agriculture.
While such projects are too big and commercial for the landfill grants, community grants of up to €100,000 each have been used to retrofit triple- glazed windows to some classrooms in Glenealy National school, as well as adding external insulation, dry filling of cavity walls, and a heat pump.
Community grants have also been used to reroof and insulate Kilbride Church and provide energy- efficiency measures such as a wood-pellet boiler for Glenealy Community Hall.
The ultimate aim of the Ballynagran energy committee is for the creation of an energy-independent area.
And what is happening in the Green heart of Wicklow - the shape of things to come - can translate to other areas of the county and country as we struggle with soaring energy cost and to steadily reduce our carbon footprints.