Friday 17 November 2017

Rural Wexford lights up the national grid

WEXFORD, to adopt the slogan, has a new energy. Landscape shaped over many millennia is being decorated with white towers of power that simply cannot be overlooked. All of a sudden, Castledockrell and Ballindaggin are lighting up the national grid.

So far there has been no invitation to a grand opening. No cheese and wine reception. No proclamations ushering in the dawn of a fresh era.

Still, all you have to do, practically anywhere from Caim to Camolin, from Brownswood to Bunclody, is open your eyes to realise that something serious is going on.

Sleek German engineering is a phrase that no longer suggests the latest model of Mercedes in these parts. The Fatherland is also exporting the know-how which is putting an increasingly green tinge on the county of Purple and Gold. These giant additions to our skyline come from the workshops of Enercon in a place called Ulrich, at more than a million euro a throw.

A decade has passed since the Deacon brothers were the first into the wind energy field with their three turbines on the Wexford/Carlow border at Kilbranish. Their pioneering efforts are being dwarfed by the latest generation of windmills.

The gentle whoosh of revolving high-tech blades has long since become part of the routine background sound-track of life at Ballywalter on the east coast, at Killag down in the south and at Carne where south and east meet. Now 18 more dramatically striking towers have been added to the Wexford total.

About seven years ago, car salesman (and landowner) Tom Kenny and farmer Henry Chamney first raised the notion of turning breezy hillsides into a wind farm. They were considering how to make the most of territory that is too high to be prime arable countryside.

In the past, the owners of such draughty pastures were the first in the queue looking to Brussels to have their holdings classified as dis-advantaged.

As Ireland looks to shed its dependence on imported oil, it emerges that they actually have one great advantage – the very wind that not so much shakes as flattens their barley.

It was far from the elite offices of venture capitalism that the eight Castledockrell neighbours were reared. Now, however, as they admire the 12 windmills which have sprouted on their lofty highlands, they find themselves at the heart of a €60 million industry.

The total invested also embraces an offshoot, Ballindaggin Green Energy, which has placed six more mills on land rented in the neighbouring parish.

A revolution is afoot, with the backing of the sort of money which is not on offer after a cosy chat with the manager at the local bank branch in Enniscorthy. Assembling the readies for a 41.4 megawatt enterprise requires a climb considerably further up the financial chain of command.

Buying a set of 85 metre high poles makes up only half the expense. The bill doubles with the cost of installing the towers securely in locations chosen for their exposure to every passing gale and of connecting up to the national grid. A large cable must be run securely from the site nine kilometres underground to a specially constructed ESB substation near Ferns. Contractors such as Michael Doyle in Cooladine and Tom Swaine of Marshalstown did the needful in this case.

Tom Kenny reports dolefully that Irish banks did not jump at the opportunity to support the venture. Instead, the farmers of North Wexford found themselves dealing with the money men (and women) of the Netherlands, where turbines are commonplace and our windswept high slopes are a cause of some jealousy. Two Dutch institutions backed the

project, with Bert Allen coming in to complete the financial package. The Brownswood millionaire already runs the Ballywalter windmills.

The payback will come over more than 20 years, with the national grid agreeing to take the output from Castledockrell Wind Farm and Ballindaggin Green Energy for the coming quarter century.

The current has just come on stream, under the supervision of George Sonneborn, who has arrived from Germany to supervise the operation of the machines. Now every rotation of each 34 metre long blade is for real.

'It is going well so far,' reports Tom Kenny, one of the men responsible for altered vistas of rural Castledockrell. 'I am at car sales for 28 years but this is a new venture.'

He still enjoys a nice calm,

sunny day as much as anyone but it is only when a breeze is stirring that he makes his money.

The latest windmills to sprout on to our horizon are not the end of the story. Ute Schulmeister is an executive with Dublin based Abo-Wind company, part of a multinational business with tentacles that have spread from Germany as far as Argentina. She confirms that planning permission has been obtained by Abo for another wind farm, this one along the ridge of Gibbet Hill, east of Bunclody.

When completed some time early next year, the six turbines will be capable of harvesting the wind to make 14.8 megawatts of electricity. That should keep the kettle boiled and the lights on in at least 12,000 households.

'For the next 20 years the wind farm will be producing energy using virtually no resources and without pollution,' says Ute happily.

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