Minister ‘fell asleep at the wheel' over solar farms, say angry locals

August 22nd, 2017 11:55 AM

By Southern Star Team

The government needs to have much stronger guidelines for solar farms, locals in Bandon believe.

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Residents living in Mishells and the Finnis Valley outside Bandon say there is uproar in their community over plans by a Dublin-based company to build a 100-acre solar farm there.

By Kieran O'Mahony

RESIDENTS living in Mishells and the Finnis Valley outside Bandon say there is uproar in their community over plans by a Dublin-based company to build a 100-acre solar farm there.

BNRG Neoen Holdings Ltd recently lodged a planning application with Cork County Council for the development of a 13MW ground-mounted solar farm on 100 acres.

The farm will have 40,000 solar panels on ground-mounted steel frames, in the townlands of Finnis and Mishells. This application comes at a time when it was revealed in a recent survey that Cork has the highest number of applications in the country with 38, followed by Wexford with 35.

The planned works will also include an on-site substation with two possible locations, in either Finnis or Mishells, as well as up to eight inverter/transformer stations, underground cables and ducts, a boundary security fence and CCTV cameras.

‘There is huge uproar in the community with the proposed conversion of 100 acres of prime agricultural land to an industrial estate,' said Michael Walsh, spokesperson for  Mishells/ Finnis Solar Farm Free Valley Group.

‘The proposed solar farm is not in keeping with the character of the area and the visual impact of this solar plant will permanently violate this beautiful valley – not only for those overlooking the site, but also for the wider community. The installation of solar panels, industrial building, high security fencing, and sensor lights will also destroy the striking countryside that we live in.'

Michael added that the community is extremely concerned that this is the ‘tip of the iceberg' with the future ribbon development of multiple solar farms in the area.

‘There is also widespread unhappiness within the community regarding the fact that neither of the proposed site landowners reside in the community and they are effectively absentee landlords. Also, according to the IFA, there are potentially huge tax and legal implications for farmers who are considering long term leasing their land to these developers.'

While the group appreciate Ireland's need to meet 2020 renewable energy targets, they have criticised the lack of solar-specific policy or planning guidelines/legislation to ensure best practice and a strategic, plan-led approach to this new industry in Ireland.

‘The worry is that without proper legislation we are allowing companies free reign over the area, with no restrictions in place to stop expansions or significant alterations to the original plans,' added Michael Walsh.

Since locals were first told about plans for the solar farm, they have held several public information meetings which were also attended by local councillors.

Concerns about the increase in traffic on the roads during the construction period have also been highlighted, as well as the significant expansion of the Mishells Cross Power Station and the productivity of this rich arable agricultural land, once plant has ceased production.

‘There is a major concern amongst the community that Minister Naughten and the government have fallen asleep at the wheel with regard to providing national planning guidelines for the location and development of solar farms,' added Mr Walsh.

The first residents heard about plans for a solar farm in their area was when some households received an invitation to attend a meeting held by BNRG Renewables in the Munster Arms Hotel in June. 

Those in attendance were shown drawings of the company's proposals but they were not allowed take them home, and they formed the support group shortly afterwards to make other people aware of the planned development. 

At the time of going to press, no one in BNRG Neoen Holdings Ltd was available for a comment.

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