Sunday 17 December 2017

Green light for solar energy park

By David Looby

A 26-acre solar energy park for Ballycullane has cleared a planning hurdle after An Bord Pleanala granted its developers planning permission last week.

The first of its kind in Ireland, the solar park near historical Tintern Abbey, has been the source of much controversy in the Ballycullane area.

Wexford County Council gave the project - which is planned for Coolroe, Tintern - approval in January, but the multi million euro development was appealed by local residents, namely: Robert and Denise Gerrard, Bernard and Mary Holland, Coolroe Action Group against the Solar Farm and Michael and Noreen Rossiter, to An Bord Pleanala.

Wexford Solar Energy plans to use solar panels across some 26 acres of agricultural land to supply electricity into the electricity grid, using the sun as the power source.

The brainchild behind the project is Meath-based Patrick Blunt. Also involved are Dublin-based electrical engineer Niall McCoy, and local landowner Sarah O'Flaherty.

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 in the area, although the cost of the project is estimated to run into the millions.

Some local residents are concerned the solar park will devalue their properties and impact negatively on the area, which has a tourist stop off point in Tintern Abbey.

Currently there are no solar farms in Ireland, however, in February 2013, 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 electricity control buildings.

In a previous interview with this newspaper in May Mr. Blunt said: '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.'

It is understood Mr Blunt is awaiting the publication of a government white paper on solar energy before beginning work on site.

An Bord Pleanala ruled that the solar energy park can go ahead subject to a number of conditions.

The Bord Pleanala Inspector said: 'Having regard to the provisions of the current development plan for the area, regulation and national policy, it is considered that, subject to compliance with conditions, the proposed construction of a solar farm would not be unduly injurious to the visual amenities of the area, the residential amenities to the area or the ecology of the area. The proposed development of the solar farm is therefore in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

Included among these are that all structures, including foundations would be removed no later than 25 years from the date of commencement of the development and the site will be reinstated unless planning permission is granted for retention for a further period.

Prior to the commencement of the development, a detailed restoration plan providing for the removal of the foundations and access roads to a specific time scale must be submitted to the local authority for written agreement.

No external artificial lighting is permitted and CCTV is required.

An archaeologist must be employed by Wexford Solar Energy. €36,000 in financial contributions is required for the infrastructure and facilities.

Wexford People

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