By EMMA CONNOLLY
SSE AIRTRICITY, Ireland’s largest renewable energy provider, has donated over €1m since 2008 to community groups and projects in the vicinity of its three Cork windfarms, two of which are in West Cork.
They operate Coomatallin wind farm near Dunmanway, a 6MW windfarm, consisting of four wind turbines.
They also run an eight-turbine farm at Curragh, between Ballyvourney and Millstreet; and an 18-turbine farm at Coomacheo near Millstreet.
Combined, they have a capacity of around 66MW, and produce enough green energy to power nearly 34,000 homes.
The company got involved in local sponsorships at construction stage. Through their Community Fund programme, the company also keeps that engagement going through voluntary annual contributions to community groups in the vicinity of its windfarms across the country.
In Cork, that amounted to over €1m to community projects since 2008 and €5m nationwide.
The breakdown of donations this year saw the Coomacheo and Curragh Community Fund get €118,000, while the Coomatallin Community Fund got a boost of €12,541, with a total of 28 groups benefiting in total.
Stephen Wheeler, SSE Ireland’s managing director, explained their motivation for making these entirely voluntary contributions.
‘We strongly believe in playing our part by contributing to the social, environmental and economic well-being of communities surrounding all of our windfarms. One of the most important aspects of developing and operating windfarms is working with the local people to deliver real benefits for their communities which we do through our Community Fund programme.’
The company recently unveiled a report titled ‘Energising Communities in Rural Ireland’, which looks back on the community funding awarded by SSE Airtricity last year, as well as its overall contribution since.
In the company’s last financial year (April 1– March 31), it awarded over €700,000 to 247 projects across rural Ireland, with over €500,000 going towards projects to improve energy efficiency.
One local example is the Clondrohid Community Recreation Centre, which has received funding over the years towards a ride-on lawnmower, a new astroturf pitch, a running track, and energy-efficient outdoor lighting.
Noel McDonagh, chairperson of Clondrohid Community Recreation Centre, said: ‘SSE Airtricity’s Community Fund has helped us become a more sustainable and environmentally conscious group over the last few years. We have noticed a marked reduction in our energy bills, which has allowed us to redirect those savings to address other needs within the recreation centre.’
Other local projects supported last year include installing solar-powered garden lights at the Dunmanway Community Garden.
‘This new report aims to show our ongoing commitment to the communities local to our wind farms,’ said Wheeler. ‘We strongly believe in playing our part by contributing to the social, environmental and economic well-being of local communities, and our Community Fund programme is designed to do just that.’
He added: ‘We were delighted to see so much of the money going towards energy efficiency projects last year, which are a great way for local groups to make savings,’
Most recent presentations were made in September when the Aras Eamon Mac Suibhne in Cúil Aodha received funding to further enhance the hall’s energy efficiency measures.
The majority of this year’s recipient groups are putting the funding towards improving their energy efficiency measures, which SSE Airtricity strongly supports.
Jerh nEalaithe O’Luasa, secretary of the Aras Eamon Mac Suibhne, said the funding would enable them to insulate the wall and attic space at the hall, ultimately making it a more comfortable environment for the community to enjoy.
A contribution to Drinagh National School from the Coomatallin Community Fund saw them eplace the school’s main door. Sheila Nowotynsk, principal at the school, commented: ‘The funding we’ve received from the SSE Airtricity Community Fund over the last number of years has been a huge help to the school. This year’s contribution will enable us to replace the main door, which will boost our energy efficiency while keeping the building comfortable for students and teachers, and reducing the noise from the road outside.’
Anne Reynolds, SSE Airtricity community development officer, said: ‘We’re really proud to be making a difference for communities close to our three wind farms in Co Cork.’
Enerco Energy, the company behind the Killaveenoge wind farm near Drinagh also confirmed they have presented funding to a large number of community groups neighbouring the development and are working with these communities.
However, Nicola Hassett of Crushterra Community Group near Inchigeela, where many wind farms have been developed, and more are in the planning pipeline, said the issue of social contributions was a divisive one: ‘If those mostly impacted by adverse effects of a development don’t accept the donation, then others will – it can effect relationships within the community.’
She said that in areas of low population, money can do some good in the long term but not when ‘it’s an incentive to deter objections.’