Two major wind farm projects proposed for the Pigeon Top Mountain area outside Omagh have sought permission to set aside restrictions on erecting massive turbines during the bird breeding season.
One of the companies involved has openly admitted that it doesn’t want to miss out on the lucrative Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROCs) payments before the government backed subsidy is finally phased out on December 31, 2018.
The incentive, designed to help the Government reach its renewable energy target has been the key driver in facilitating the dozens of wind turbines scattered across the local countryside. The intention to close the subsidy system was first announced by former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell in 2015.
Plans for 12 125m turbines as part of Cornavarrow Wind Farm date back to 2006, while the bid to build nine turbines as part of Pigeon Top Wind Farm was initiated in 2009.
Both were rejected by the local planning authority but later granted planning permission at the Planning Appeals Commission on the condition they did not build during the bird breeding season – March 1 to August 31.
The Pigeon Top project belongs to Carrickfergus based TCI Renewables.
The Cornavarrow project was originally initiated by Hertfordshire based Doreen Walker, who is linked to a series of wind farms across Tyrone.
She resigned as director in October and a group of four new directors, linked to the Viridian Group, have stepped in to take over. The Viridian Group is the parent company of Energia and Power NI.
Both projects have now lodged planning applications to the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council seeking to set that condition aside.
The applications were lodged within one week of each other during December. The accompanying letter from Cornavarrow Wind Farm Ltd makes no reference to the looming ROCs deadline.
But the letter from TCI Renewables accompanying its application makes no bones about its objective.
“Whilst not a specific planning matter per-se; unfortunately in the absence of this variation a wind farm project of the scale of Pigeon Top Wind Farm cannot be commenced and completed within the timescales of the eligibility dates qualified within the Renewables Closure Order (NI) 2015.”
TCI admits that the project’s financiers had been unwilling to go ahead until permission to install a 110kV substation and overhead transmission line in the area to connect the turbines into the NIE network was achieved. Planning approval eventually went through in August 2016.
The letter states that there is sufficient time outside of the bird breeding season to pass all the hurdles reacquired for the wind farm to be accredited before December 31, 2018.
The types of birds native to the mountain is revealed in an ornithological report accompanying the Cornavarrow bid.
It claims that steps can be taken to minimise the impact on sensitive nesting bird species.
The report includes a survey from 2005 of a number of bird species observed in the development zone.
Among those observed breeding were snipe, willow warbler, dunnock, stonechat and meadow pipit birds, which as of 2006 were classed as species of conservation concern.
Birds species with a priority status including skylark, reed bunting, grasshopper warbler, starling and song thrush were also observed as breeding in the zone.
Merlin, peregrine and kestrel birds were also observed in the development area, but were not considered to be breeding there.
Both applications are currently at the consultation stage.
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