Plans to erect a new wind farm cluster substation on the outskirts of Rasharkin could be harmful and damage community relations, according to Ballymoney councillors.
The issue was raised during last Monday’s Council meeting, when two NIE officials, came along to discuss the Mid-Antrim Cluster Connection proposal which is awaiting planning permission.
David de Casseres, Director Transmission Projects and Michael Hewitt, Transmission Project Manager, both made a presentation to council members highlighting the plans to erect the substation on farm land between Finvoy and Rasharkin and to connect it into the Kells to Coleraine 110kV line.
However, councillors hit back at the news, stating major concerns over the health and safety of residents, the environmental impact, property value as well as interference and damage to the local ‘cross-community’ model plane flying club.
Addressing members, Mr de Casseres outlined the latest Government figures set out by DETI’s Strategic Energy Framework, which ‘requires increased levels of renewable power generation and associated new infrastructure to improve security and diversity of energy supply in Northern Ireland’.
He continued: “The SEF establishes a target of 40% of Northern Ireland’s electricity consumption to be met by renewable sources by the year 2020. We are currently at 15%.
“This is obviously a major challenge. Some of the greatest winds come from the north west of Northern Ireland and therefore we need to transport the energy generated across Northern Ireland.”
Outlining the need to have the least impact on the environment Mr de Casseres explained : “NIE set out a clustering plan. This aims to provide joint connection points for wind farm clusters and to share major transmission system connection points.
“Therefore NIE proposes to develop a new wind farm cluster substation in Mid-Antrim close to Rasharkin village. This will connect into the Kells to Coleraine 110kV circuit approximately 13km from Coleraine. NIE has carried out intensive studies and processes. The environmental constraints have been assessed, the preferred substation site chosen, the line route corridors identified, environmental impact assessed, landowners engaged, initial design developed, a public consultation held and responded to and the finalised proposal has been submitted for planning approval.”
Mr Hewitt then highlighted that six different sites were considered, however following technical and environmental assessment ‘one site was preferred’.
Outlining the plans he continued: “The site was in close proximity to the 110kV line, it was close proximity to the wind farms, there were no significant environmental constraints nearby. The local landowners and public were consulted during a two day event held in Rasharkin Community Centre.
“During these consultation meetings some people were not happy with concerns focusing on the visual impact, noise, health and safety, the impact on pigeon flying, the impact on model aircraft and the concern over property value.
“As a result we have addressed these issues by moving the substation 250m from housing and placed the substation further into the valley. Regarding health and safety, there are no significant risks, we have NIE staff working in substations all the time. We have also placed some cables underground so not to affect pigeon flying, and have moved the substation an extra 50m away from the flight path of model planes, and have reassured people that such a substation would have no impact on their frequency. Finally, regarding property value, there are no proven facts that say substations devalue property.
“The substation will fit below the landscape in a valley and will be surrounded with planting. On November 30 2012 we submitted the planning application and are happy to address any concerns. The final planning process is approaching completion and we are awaiting the final DoE report and input from Council. All being well we could start construction by early to mid 2015.”
Opening the floor, Alderman Frank Campbell question whether the substation would cause ‘inference to radio or television signals’ and if the pylons would be hidden.
Mr de Casseres explained that there would only be ‘two small pylons’ and ‘it would not interfere with electronic equipment’.
Cllr Cathal McLaughlin then expressed his, and other Rasharkin residents’, fears over the plans. He said: “I was at the consultation meetings in Rasharkin and they were very stormy nights and these plans have gone down hill ever since.”
He hit out at the health and safety concerns, the affect of magnetic fields and child leukaemia as well as the impact on property value and the flying club. “This substation is going to be built in the area of the flying club, what happens if a plane goes out of control? You say there’s ‘no significant risk’ to health and safety – so there is a risk? Has an environmental assessment been carried out?”
Mr de Casseres highlighted that there was no evidence that the substation would cause leukaemia or any other health risk and reassured that they would be working ‘well inside the levels of safety’. He added: “Right now in this room we are exposed to magnetic fields but the important thing is to be reassured about is that all of the fixtures and fittings around us are designed to ensure that we are within the safe evels of exposure.
“Regarding the flying club, we have addressed their concerns and have moved the whole substation an additional 50m away from the flight path of the club.
“Finally an Environmental Impact Assessment was not required. However we carried one out as it is good practice to do so.”
Cllr McLaughlin continued: “We’re not against the substation, all we want is to move it. Even some of the other sites are better than this one. We have problems in Rasharkin between the two communities and the flying club is the only cross community activity. There are 40/50 members and with this substation there’s a chance that all this goes up the left. I don’t want this to happen.”
He also outlined that the substation was near to a particular dwelling and in the sight line of the cemetery adding ‘what will people see when they go to their loved ones graves? I propose that this Council doesn’t give the sight lines for the entrance’.
Mr de Casseres reiterated that the flying club ‘would not be affected by the substation’. He responded that NIE had “looked at and chosen the best site. A lot of people live in the local community and we have created the best balance for all. It is now in the hands of the planning authority and we are happy to facilitate their concerns and opinions.”
Reiterating the health concerns Cllr Roma McAfee added: “As a survivor of child leukaemia and a mother of two health and safety would be a major issue.”
Cllr Ian Stevenson also questioned why NIE didn’t ‘go back to Rasharkin to speak to the local community’. “Following the consultation meeting, why didn’t you go back for another meeting with the amendments? There are areas people are happy with, why close them? Things are done better by keeping as many people as happy as possible.”
Mr de Casseres concluded: “We did make the relevant changes to keep people happy and they became part of the proposal. Another location would have meant it would have been further from the road or further from the line and that in itself would have created other problems.
“We needed to keep the substation as close to the existing line and roads as we could and far enough away from the community and that is what we have done.”
Alderman Harry Connolly said he supported Cllr McLaughlin’s worries adding that ‘this has been going on for a few years now’.
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