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Westmeath windfarms sites to be revealed

An energy firm which recently announced an ambitious plan to develop 40 windfarms across five Midland counties, including Westmeath, has said it will announce the specific locations of the proposed windfarms later this year.

Last week Element Power Ireland announced the €8 billion ‘Greenwire’ project, which it hopes will be up and running by 2018. It involves the development of 40 windfarms in counties Westmeath, Offaly, Laois, Meath and Kildare, creating 3,000 long term jobs and an estimated 10,000 construction posts.

The company said the energy the new windfarms would generate would be supplied to the UK through cables which would be installed under the Irish Sea.

Element Power Ireland said it can’t yet disclose the locations where it hopes to build the 40 windfarms.

But speaking to the Westmeath Independent last week, Peter Howard, Chief Technology Officer with Element Power, said they would be spread “broadly evenly” among the five counties – meaning eight or more of the windfarms could be earmarked for Westmeath.

He said the company had pinpointed its 40 preferred locations and that some of the relevant landowners had already agreed to allow their land be used, but talks were ongoing with other landowners and council planning officials.

The company said certain criteria had to be met in constructing windfarms, such as the fact that they had to be located half a kilometre away from residential buildings, thus making them unsuitable for urban areas.

“Over the last 18 months we’ve been looking at county development plans in the Midlands and seeing where wind energy is being encouraged,” said Mr Howard. “Our background over the last ten years is in building windfarms in Kerry, Cork and Tipperary.”

He added that the company expected to announce the proposed windfarm locations before the end of this year – and possibly as soon as September.

“We would hope to submit a planning application for the project in a year or 18 months’ time,” he said. If planning was approved in mid-2014, construction would commence from 2015 to 2017, with the windfarms generating power by 2018.The development would include the construction of two dedicated subsea cables from Ireland to Wales which would allow the power to be transferred to the UK grid. Mr Howard said approximately €2 billion of the project’s €8 billion cost would be spent on cabling.

Recent windfarm development proposals in areas such as South Roscommon and North Westmeath have been met with significant opposition from local residents.

When asked how Element Power planned to address the concerns of locals in relation to windfarm plans, Mr Howard replied: “The starting point is to choose the right location (for each windfarm). There’s nearly 200 windfarms in Ireland and while some of these have thrown up local opposition most of them have not, actually.

“So the location is key. We’ll have to deal with each area on a case by case basis. We will listen to the local residents and if they have any genuine concerns we will respond to them.”

He said ongoing work was taking place at a high level with the Irish and UK authorities on the regulatory aspects of the proposed project.

The timing of an announcement on the proposed locations of the 40 windfarms “depends on the progress we make with landowners and county planners, but I’d envisage it happening between September and the end of the year,” he said.