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Islanders looking for more details on scale of Whiddy energy project

July 13th, 2021 11:45 AM

By Emma Connolly

Publican and hostel owner Tim O’Leary of the Bank House bar and restaurant on Whiddy Island (pictured) believes the islanders could ‘co-exist peacefully’ with the green energy development but the tragic Betelgeuse disaster of 1979, which claimed 51 lives, has left many locals cautious.

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A MEETING is to take place soon on Whiddy to allow the 20-odd residents discuss the multi-million euro plan to produce green energy on the Bantry Bay island.

A team of representatives for the joint venture between Zenith Energy and EI-H2 went door-to-door on the island on Tuesday, the day of the announcement to the media, distributing literature on the 3.2 gigawatt (GW) green energy facility.

Chair of the island’s development association Danny O’Leary wasn’t home when they called and said he was ‘personally apprehensive’ about the project to develop what would be one of the world’s biggest such facilities on their doorstep.

Referring to the maritime disaster of 1979 which saw 51 people killed on the island, he said: ‘I ran out of one explosion here before. I’ll need more information specifically on the scale of the project and reassurances on how safe it is.’

Tim O’Leary, who runs the island ferry as well as a bar, restaurant and hostel accommodation on the island, agreed he’d like more detail on the ambitious project to produce green hydrogen and ammonia for both domestic use and export.

‘It’s early days yet, but personally I’m not against it. Fossil fuels aren’t going to last forever and green energy is the way forward,’ he said.

His feeling is that the islanders could ‘co-exist peacefully’ with the development.

‘Since the terminal was reopened, the feeling is that safety procedures are very good, but I don’t know enough about the details to comment fully as yet,’ he said.

He said there should be a positive spin-off for the island once construction started but said Zenith was ‘self-sufficient and had their own ferry’.

Ellen Ruhotas, managing director of Zenith Energy, said the key to the success of the plan is to bring the islanders along with them on the journey. Mr Ruhotas, who spends a lot of time on the island, described the project as ‘an excellent opportunity for our Bantry operations, for the local community and for Ireland as a country.’

‘For many years now, our Whiddy island operation has supported the security of Ireland’s energy supply. This new joint venture will see Zenith Energy take a pioneering role in the development of a new green energy industry for Ireland,’ she said.

In 2020, the American firm announced plans to sell the 17-tank terminal they had bought from Philips 66 in 2014, but Ellen confirmed that’s no longer their intention.

Chairperson of Bantry Development and Tourism Association Eileen O’Shea said the project would be a boost for the area.

‘Whiddy is the ideal location for this type of industry and it will be a great boost to the local economy, as well as creating jobs in West Cork,’ she said.

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