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Andre Fernon, a native of Shannon, co-founder and director of Terra Solar, who are planning to develop solar farms in county Clare. Photograph by John Kelly.

€30m investment plan in Clare solar power

Plans have been unveiled for the development of six solar farms, which could result in €30 million renewable energy investment in the county over the coming years.

County Clare could become a leading generator of solar powered energy with the announcement that the county’s first solar farm is to be located at Ballymorris in Cratloe, just off the N18 Ennis-Limerick road.

The 12.4 hectare solar farm will be connected to the national grid and will generate enough electricity to power 1,200 homes over a 25-year period.

Following a number of pre-planning meetings with the local authority, Terra Solar will lodge its first planning application to develop a solar farm at its Ballymorris site in the coming weeks.

The company has selected six sites that all share certain common characteristics and have applied in each case for grid connection to ESB Networks. Requiring an investment of €5 million apiece, the six sites in the Shannon area will provide enough electricity to power 6,000 homes.

A lot of work has already been done in screening the Clare sites before they were selected. Last year, the company started the process of developing solar farms in the county by applying for grid connection.

The company projects the creation of 60 construction jobs per site over a 12-week period, with most of these posts to be sourced locally.

The overall investment will also make the Shannon Region more attractive for new industry, as the overall energy created by the solar farms would almost be the equivalent of decarbonising Shannon.

“It will create a good platform to attract multinationals; Google and Apple want to source renewable energy. It will help the government to position Clare as a renewable energy county, which should lead to a springboard for other jobs,” claimed Terra Solar director, Andre Fernon.

While Terra Solar’s customers will be ESB Networks and Eirgrid, it will explore options to deal directly with companies who want to reduce high energy costs. With individual companies setting out renewable energy targets at corporate level, Mr Fernon noted many are now looking to move to a carbon neutral footprint.

Terra Solar said companies have approached them directly looking to become involved in a power purchase agreement, where energy is allocated to them following grid connection.

Mr Fernon confirmed the company has the largest grid application being processed for solar farms in Clare, Kerry and Limerick.  In Clare, the company has applied for more than 30 megawatts of grid connection, which could take up to 12 months to complete.

“The sun delivers more energy to the Earth in one hour than we use in an entire year from fossil, nuclear and renewable sources combined. It’s very exciting that technology now allows us to harvest this energy in harmony with nature and we are delighted to be bringing this investment to Clare,” Mr Fernon stated.

“Clare County Council is very progressive in its approach to addressing the issue of climate change through renewable energy. Solar farms can contribute greatly to securing energy supply for the county and help Clare County Council in its work towards meeting the national target of generating 40% of energy used from renewable sources by 2020 and in reducing carbon emissions.

“The Ballymorris solar farm alone will remove 1,800 tonnes of carbon emissions from the atmosphere in County Clare every year,” he claimed.

He believes solar power is the form of renewable energy with the most potential, following an 82% reduction in costs in recent years. Over the next 15 years, he projects solar power will become the most cheapest form of renewable energy in the world.

“The use of solar power fundamentally changes the nature of electricity generation. It can be generated at a local level and the country is now reliant on one big power plant. It will help Ireland move to a much more independent secure form of electricity generation,” he added.

The Shannon businessman, who knows the landowners, said he is delighted to be investing in his own county. Describing Clare County Council as a “progressive” local authority, Mr Fernon stated the draft 2017-2023 Clare County Development Plan recognises that there has to be a move away from power generation by wind to solar.

He explained the county has a lot of grid capacity but to ensure that solar generated power could work, the selected 25 to 30 acres of land had to be near an ESB 38 kilovolt sub-station.

Selecting marginal land for the generation of solar power also allows a farmer to earn money from an alternative source.

“Reaching the national renewable target of 40% will not be achieved by wind energy because of the issues that wind is running into, so solar is the only viable alternative to reach that target,” he claimed.

“The south-west is better than the north-east in terms of the amount of solar radiation you can get. Coastal areas such as locations in Clare and Kerry are also better. Solar power is regarded as one of the cleanest sources of energy and has minimal impact on the environment as it does not emit any pollution when it is produced or consumed.”

Dan Danaher

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