Some 145 landowners in North Offaly have signed option agreements to have turbines on their land, Mainstream Renewable Power, the company behind plans for the 5,000MW ‘Energy Bridge’ wind energy project in the midlands, has revealed this week.
The figures emerged in Clonbullogue on Wednesday last at the first of twelve all-day information days planned for the areas where the company will begin Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies next month.
The studies will assess the suitability of tracts of land in Rhode, Clonbullogue, Bracknagh and Edenderry to become home to a total of 150 wind turbines in the years ahead.
Diarmuid Twomey, Irish Manager with Mainstream Renewable Power, says there has been a “significant appetite” for wind energy in North Offaly, much more so than in Westmeath or Laois, attributing it partly to an existing energy tradition with Bord na Móna and power stations in the area in the past.
“What we are talking about is turbines with a 100m hub height and 56m blade, similar to what is already in place in Mount Lucas,” he relayed.
“The most common land type is cutaway bog or improved grassland, which was recently reclaimed, or forestry,” Mr Twomey continues of the North Offaly sites earmarked for clusters of wind turbines, chosen because they are least sensitive in terms of housing density, landscape etc.
In Clonbullogue alone where around 35 turbines are planned, 40 landowners have signed up to be involved in the project in townlands like Clonkeen, Nahana, Cloncreen, Ballydermot and Kilcumber, the closest sited around one kilometre from the village.
Over in Rhode, environmental studies will be start in October in locations like Mongagh, Carrick, Greenhills and Ballybryan among others where the company hopes to site up to 20 turbines.
Another 25 to 30 are earmarked for the Bracknagh area, which spills into Kildare, with Edenderry possibly becoming home to close to 30 turbines.
A breakdown of maps and locations for these areas was unavailable at the time of going to press yesterday.
Between 70 to 100 people will be involved in carrying out 37,000 hours of environmental assessment in each of the areas, examining subjects like shadow flicker, ecology, hydrology, archaeology, traffic impacts and noise among others until March of 2015, Mr Twomey adds.
Generally, the research rules out 25% of the sites, he says, adding that a Department of Communications strategic assessment currently underway may also mean some sites will be prohibited for wind energy developments.
By next April with the EIA complete, Mr Twomey stresses that there will be another round of public consultation with concrete information in terms of the areas the company will be moving forward with, prior to submission of a planning application with An Bord Pleanála, which is expected to happen six to eight weeks later.
“The first turbine won’t be ready to go into operation until 2018,” Mr Twomey underlines if planning permission is garnered for the project.
He adds that it is estimated that the windfarms would employ up to 5,000 people in the construction phase, 60% of which would be in North Offaly.
As well as this a further 500 people will be permanently employed maintaining the wind farms.
Mainstream Renewable Power, which has its midlands offices in Edenderry, has had over 1,000 people through the doors for their Tuesday clinic since it opened its office last June, Mr Twomey told the Offaly Independent at Wednesday’s information day.
Over 2,000 homes in Offaly, Laois and Westmeath have also been visited by representatives of the company within a one kilometre radius of the earmarked sites over that period.
There was a high level awareness of the plans in Westmeath and Offaly according to Mr Twomey, but there was a marked difference in support in the two counties, with Offaly residents generally in favour of the ambitious plans.
Concerns about health dominate in Westmeath, Mr Twomey says, urging people in the county to research the issue for themselves and look at the whole body of science and peer reviewed literature which exists, the latest of which was conducted by the National University of Ireland.
He underlines that the windfarms are built for export of power to the UK as they are forbidden to supply Ireland. Mr Twomey explains that this is due to the fact there is currently a 100 year wait to access grid connection to access the electricity market in this country, and the size of that market is relatively small.
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