Construction of a new wind turbine by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in Plassey is key to ensuring the company meets its environmental targets by 2020.
That’s according to Barry O’Sullivan, the manufacturing platform lead in contact lenses at the firm, which employs over 1,000 people in the National Technology Park.
Almost 100 local residents gathered at Monaleen GAA Club this week to find out more on the controversial plans, which could see J&J build a 99-metre high turbine in Plassey, Castletroy.
If planning permission is secured, it will be the second structure of its type in the area, something which is causing residents concern.
But Mr O’Sullivan said with an increase in production at the vast factory, the move is necessary.
“We are the second biggest energy user in Munster, and in the top ten in the country. The Irish government has committed as part of an EU directive that we will have reduced our greenhouse emissions by 20%. We need to play our part in this,” he said.
He pointed out that with trends for people wearing lenses switching from reusable to disposable, it has led to heavier demands on the environment.
Mr O’Sullivan said: “We are in the era now of single use plastics. Customers who buy our lenses ask if this is the best choice for the environment. They ask us if we can recycle the foil, the packaging, the cardboard. We have done a huge amount of work in reducing the amount of water, electricity and have even taken the weight off the pallets. We need our customers to be happy that buying a daily disposable lens is a good environmental decision,” he said.
Questions came from the audience, however, as to why any new turbine needed to be 20 metres higher than the first one.
Mr O’Sullivan said this is because wind speeds are higher the further into the air the turbine stretches.
The meeting this Tuesday night was organised by Fianna Fail councillor Joe Pond and attended by fellow members Michael Sheahan and Marian Hurley, plus Senator Kieran O’Donnell.
Cllr Pond said: “J&J contributes a lot to the local economy, through salaries, they do sponsor a lot. I am in favour of alternative energy rather than fossil fuels. We just need to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is.”
Mr O’Sullivan told residents present that the site of the proposed turbine is more than 600 metres away from the nearest housing estate which lies over the border in Co. Clare – something disputed by locals.
However, Cllr Sheahan suggested that J&J could go further – and look to build a second turbine in a more rural area.
Explaining, he said: “People here see your need for green energy, but they don’t want a facility on their doorstep. What I’d like to do is marry the two ideas. If J&J constructs a second wind turbine in a location outside the immediate vicinity of the plant, they would not be permitted to link it directly to their manufacturing plant to supply electricity.
“Only the ESB has a licence to do this in Ireland. Only them or Eirgrid can transport electricity by means of a distribution or transmission system.
“But there are not provisions which would stop J&J being supplied with electricity by ESB while at the same time having an off-site turbine which would feed renewable energy into the grid.”
But Mr O’Sullivan rejected this, saying the energy regulator would not allow the firm to claim energy bought in from a wind farm via the ESB is renewable.
“The second reason is cost. Our electricity bill is around €12m a year,” he added, saying this could push it higher.
With residents complaining about noise allegedly emanating from the existing turbine, Stephen Holmes, the firm’s community liaison officer said: “Most turbines you see around the country are gearbox driven. Gears make a racket when they move. This is direct-drive, so it is the quietest model available on the market at 45 decibels.”
Mr O’Donnell said: “The big issue here for people is the visibility. The height is a key factor. How high above the ground will it be?”
Mr Holmes said that the base of the turbine would be less than five metres above ground, and said the structure would tower to 100m high – lower than new designs, he said, which can stretch to 120m.
Residents also voiced concerns about the plans being potentially “railroaded through” by J&J.
But Mr O’Sullivan said this was never the firm’s intention adding: “We are all from here. We all want to be good neighbours, and we will do everything we can to be good neighbours.”
As it stands, planners will make a decision on the project on or before May 6 next.
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