Concerns are mounting over plans to build Ireland’s largest solar farm in Waterford’s ‘most scenic tourist area’

The controversial proposal is centred on the areas of Rathnaskillogue, Glen East, Glen West and Curraheen near Stradbally on the Copper Coast – an area currently fighting a large wind farm proposed for the same region.Highfield Solar Limited, submitted a planning application to Waterford City & County Council reference: 19290 (WC&CC) on 30th April. The development will consist of a ten year permission for a solar farm on a site of approximately 270 acres, to include one IPP control building and associated compound, Medium Voltage (MV) substation, electrical transformer/inverter station building, battery storage building, solar PV panels ground mounted on steel supported structures, storage container, CCCT cameras, access roads, fencing and associated electrical cabling, ducting and ancillary infrastructure.
wind farm
A Pre-Application Consultation Request to construct a new 110Kv substation was lodged with An Bord Pleanála reference: PL93.302247 by Highfield Solar Ltd. last year, with the planning body deeming that the request is a Strategic Infrastructure Development.The proposal includes the construction of an 110kV Gas Insulated Switchgear (GIS) station and IPP Control Building with associated compounds.However, the proposed development is causing understandable concern amongst the close-knit rural communities who have genuine concerns for their health and that of their families, property devaluation and quality of life within their own communities if this proposal were to be granted planning permission by Waterford City & County Council or An Bord Pleanála. Worried residents feel the sheer size and scale of the proposed energy infrastructure project is totally inappropriate and intrusive on their quality of life for such a rural area. Highfield Solar had previously applied to EirGrid who are the Transmission System Operator, (TSO) for a Gate connection (Grid connection) of 95Mw capacity and were successful in their application to the semi-state authority. The standard industry rule equates to 5 acres of land/ required to generate 1Mw of electricity, meaning Highfield have the capacity to construct a 500-acre Solar farm or Windfarm if they so desire.
Currently there are 32 solar farms with a generating capacity of 375.5Mw in consideration for Waterford alone which will require a total land mass of 1875 acres in areas such as Kilmeaden, Portlaw, Ballyduff upper, Mothel, Dunmore, Tramore, Affane, Ballycarbry, Lismore, Tallow, Cappoquin and Ballylaneen. Solar panels may be an appealing choice for clean energy, but they harbour their share of toxic chemicals. The toxic chemicals are Cadmium telluride, Copper Indium Selenide, Cadmium Indium Gallium and Silicon Tetrachloride. These toxic chemicals can become airborne and attack the human respiratory system, one of the more unique issues for solar farm developments is the glint and glare that can be generated from sunlight reflecting off the solar panels with the general visibility of panels from surrounding houses and roads. Highfield Solar commissioned its own internal Glare report which identified over 100 homes, which will suffer varying quantities of glare during long and protracted periods during the days which will occur for up to six months of any given year.
A catchment area of no more than twenty five square miles there are 15 individual proposed energy projects consisting of Windfarms, Solar farms, Hydro stations, upgrading existing substations, new Substations and 440kv Pylon network, Gridlink project for this area, said one local resident, Breda Kiely who is currently living underneath the 110Kv & 220Kv powerline and adjacent to the proposed BSB windfarm site and three proposed Solar farms and new Substation.
“We don’t see the demand for energy in this area, power is not needed in this region, so why should we industrialise our beautiful scenic rural area, which our families have lived in for hundreds of years, in order to line the pockets of a select few greedy individual developers,” she said.
“This region has seen a regeneration recently with the fantastic Greenway and the world-renowned UNESCO world heritage site, the Copper Coast Geopark and the Comerage Mountain range, villages such as Kilmacthomas are finally seeing a revival as a result of the tourist attractions, bringing a welcome business boost to rural towns and villages which had gone into decline. We are seeing new businesses opening on a monthly basis and a vibrant feel, a positive buzz is around again. Stradbally has won the Silver Medal in the national Tidy Towns competition on numerous occasions. There is a real sense of pride in our communities. We should not allow anybody destroy this area of growth, FULL STOP”.
Along with 32 solar farms which will require over 1875 acres of land there are 9 Windfarms in Knockanore, Ballymacarby, Drumhills, Dunhill and Bunmahon which will require 1650 acres of land if all are constructed. If you add in the land required for new, expanding substations and new transmissions lines and pylons, the overall picture becomes somewhat overwhelming and extremely fighting. With almost 4000 acres of land proposed not one full time job will be created yet a multi-national factory on 5 acres of land can create and sustain thousands of jobs.
The general public are growing increasingly tired and frustrated with having new legislations and policies imposed upon them time and time again with little or no input or understanding as to the reality of how they will impact on people’s lives on a daily basis. Rural communities feel isolated from Dublin Central Government policy makers, with rural communities feeling abandoned by their local authorities and local representatives who seem to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds depending on the direction of the wind. These feelings were further exacerbated this weekend by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton whose statement will further drive a “broadbandwith” wedge between rural communities and Dublin Central Government. The day of making uneducated and unmeasured public statements has long passed. Rural communities need proper Community engagement and consultation before large energy projects can be considered. Minister Bruton would do well to remember the demise of his former Ministers.
Most rational people are aware of the need to decarbonise our environment and understand we must reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and switch to an alternative source of renewable energy. However, this must be done in conjunction with all the stakeholders, not a select few. Waterford County must play its part along with every citizen and other county in Ireland in this environmental energy debate, while being cognizant and sympathetic to our environment and surroundings in which we live in, everybody must play an equal part, no one person or town, village or community should have to shoulder an undue burden. We can not implement Climate Change by punitive means of taxation, policy makers and the industries must work collectively and listen to and heed the concerns of the people directly involved and only then proceed with the majority “WILL” of the communities in order to create an environment in which people and their communities feel part of the Climate change debate.
Concerned resident’s and communities can have their say on Friday 17th of May at 7.30pm in the Barron Hall, Stradbally. Co Waterford.