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A general view of the entrance to a field at Coolderry, Ardnacrusha, which is included in planning for a Solar farm. Photograph by John Kelly

East Clare residents vow to fight solar farm

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IT is now highly likely that An Bord Pleanála will make the final decision on the proposed development of “Ireland’s largest solar farm” in South-East Clare after two residents vowed to appeal any planning approval granted by Clare County Council.

If Reeve Wave Limited is refused a 10-year planning permission to develop a solar array at Ballyglass, Coolderry, Dromintobin North, Reanbrone and Oakfield townlands, Ardnacrusha, it also has the option of appealing any refusal to the independent appeals’ board.

This proposal, which has been described as “Ireland’s largest solar farm” by the Blackwater Concern Solar Group (BCSG) has prompted a series of submissions from 22 residents, and well known environmentalist Peter Sweetman of Wild Ireland Defence CLG and Others.

Listed as signatories were Paula Reidy, Bunratty; Denis and Rose O’Donnell, Blackwater; Stephanie and Alan Higgins, Blackwater; Eunice Randle, Coolderra, Ardnacrusha; Michael and Mary Clery, Blackwater; Keith Larkin, Clonlara village; Susanne O’Dalaigh, Blackwater; Liam and Rachel Mannix, Oakfield, Clonlara; Greg Larkin and Louise Kiernan, Oakfield, Clonlara; Paschal Duggan, Ballyglass; Brendan and Jane Meade, Blackwater; Jennifer and Richard Fitzgibbon, Elton Court, Meelick; Brian Bolger, Ballyglass, Blackwater; Chloe Kelleher, Blackwater, Gary Keane, Ballyglass, Blackwater.

In addition to claiming this development is contrary to the council’s renewable energy strategy, Greg Larkin and Louise Kieran have vowed to appeal any planning approval “through all means available to us”.

Shannon Airport and the Department of Local Government and Heritage have also taken issue with information provided by the developer.

Shannon Airport stated in its submission the glint and glare assessment provided by the company should be amended to consider the airport’s airfield receptors on Runway 24 and 06 approaches as well as the Air Traffic Control Tower to allow the facility assess any potential impacts on aviation safety.

The Department of Housing and Heritage has told the planning authority the developer is required to engage the services of a suitably qualified archaeologist to carry out an updated Archaeological Impact Assessment, which should include a programme of targeted archaeological geophysical survey and test excavation.

Deputy Cathal Crowe has asked the planning authority to be updated on this planning application as a public representative.

In his submission, Deputy Crowe stated he is concerned about the lack of public consultation on this planning application and regretted his request made to the company for a public meeting with residents was declined.

Reeve Wave Limited has applied for a 10-year planning permission to develop a solar array at Ballyglass, Coolderry, Dromintobin North, Reanbrone and Oakfield townlands, Ardnacrusha.

This development will consist of about 265,000 m2 of solar panels on ground mounted frames, eight single storey control cabins with associated electrical transformer units and hardstand areas, two ring main units, underground cabling within the solar array site and within the local L70382 public road to connect solar array field parcels, security fencing, CCTV, access tracks, upgrade of existing and new, upgrades to four existing agricultural field entrances on the R463, L3046, and L70382 and the creation of a new entrance on L70382, temporary construction compound, landscaping and all associated ancillary apparatus and development works.

It is envisaged the solar farm will connect to the national grid via the existing 110Kv substation at Ardnacrusha Power Station, which will be subject to a separate planning application to An Bord Pleanála.

The company believes the farm will contribute directly to a carbon dioxide emission reduction of 21,236 tonnes annually or 743,263 tonnes of C02 over its 35-year lifespan.

In a series of similar submissions, residents have objected to the “industrialisation of the rural countryside” by the installation of this large-scale 120-acres solar panel development surrounded by 7.8 kilometres of fencing topped by barbed wire and 81 CCTV cameras.

Householders claimed there was inadequate public consultation and many of the residents on the perimeter of the development didn’t meet the company representative and many did not receive the developer’s information leaflets.

They complained the visual amenity of the area encompassing the proposed site would be “severely degraded”, while views would be impacted for pedestrians and cyclists on local roads.

They alleged this development is likely to attract “opportunistic criminals involved in the theft of valuable solar panel development materials based on “growing evidence of this type of crime from operational solar farms in the UK.

Residents stated this development will negatively impact wildlife, while malfunctioning and overheated solar panel components posed a fire risk.

Mr Sweetman pointed out the planning authority is required to form and record a view about the environmental impact of the development, considering the EIA Report, if furnished by the applicant, the views of the public, applying its own expertise to screen the development for Environmental Impact Assessment.

He submitted information on a number of court cases setting out the threshold for examining planning applications under the Habitats’ Directive.

HW Planning stated in planning documents this site was selected following a strategic site assessment process, which was informed by key governing industry, planning criteria, ensuring a low impact to the surrounding environment.

It outlined a perimeter fence up to two metres in height will be erected to provide security and restrict unauthorised development.

“Paladin fencing up to 2.6 metres may be erected in some areas depending on security requirements.

“The proposed solar array has been designed in accordance with best practice industry standards, incorporating innovative industry technologies to achieve optimum environmental conditions.

“Solar arrays represent a positive form of agricultural diversification in local communities. As a temporary use in the landscape, they are typically inert, with a negligible environmental impact.

“The site, with its south facing aspect and absence of constraining factors, make it ideal for a solar PV array.

“The significant levels of local vegetation and natural contours means the site is well screened and the prepared landscape and visual assessments confirms the proposal will not give rise to adverse impacts on the landscape of the area.

“It has been objectively determined that the proposal will not have any adverse impacts concerning glint/glare and a precautionary approach has been exercised in the design with generous buffers to existing residences in the local area,” the consultants stated.

Responding to Clare Champion queries recently, company representative, James Crowley said he led the community consultation effort in relation to the proposed Ballyglass solar array project, with the initial focus on households proximate to the proposed development and the wider community informed about the proposal after a notice placed in The Clare Champion of May 6.

“All relevant information in relation to the project remains available for public viewing on the project information website, www.ballyglassinfo.com, and I remain available to discuss any concerns that anybody may have in relation to the proposal.”

Commenting on the fencing, he referred to the company website and photomontage page, which described this as typical deer fencing, which is about 2.4 metres in height and is designed to allow small mammals access and egress throughout the site.

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