By Seán McCárthaigh
An Bord Pleanála has upheld recent decisions of Cork County Council to approve new solar energy developments in Ballyspillane West outside Midleton and near Leamlara about 6km away.
The council’s decision to give the go-ahead to the Midleton project had been appealed by a number of parties, including the Ballyspillane West and Surrounding Area Action Group which claimed the size and scale of the project on a 28 hectare site was much larger that the dozens of other solar farms planned in the Cork region.
They also expressed concern that the local road network was unsuitable for construction and maintenance traffic as well as about the development’s impact on people living in the area and their properties.
Terra Solar, which is based in the UCD campus in Belfield, plans to install around 84,200 sq m of solar panels on farmland which would provide a maximum of 14.1 megawatts.
In reaching its decision, An Bord Pleanála said it had taken into consideration regional and national policy objectives on renewable energy, the Cork County Development Plan, the solar farm itself and the topography of the site.
The planning appeals board said that, subject to 13 conditions, the development would not seriously injure the visual and residential amenities of the local area.
It ruled that the solar farm was unlikely to have any significant effect on the local environment or ecology and would be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience.
An Bord Pleanála made similar findings to plans by Lightsource Renewable Energy Ireland, a Belfast-based energy firm, to develop a solar farm on a 48-hectare site between Knockraha and Leamlara with 25.7 megawatt capacity.
Four local residents had challenged the decision of Cork Co Council to approve the project, claiming it would lead to the industrialisation of a rural setting.
They included the owners of a local dog training centre and boarding kennels, Martin and Brigitte Noonan, who expressed concern that the operations of the solar farm would destroy their business and livelihood. The objectors also questioned the suitability of the existing road network to cope with construction traffic for the project.
An inspector with An Bord Pleanála said the lack of specific national guidelines for solar farms was not a reason to refuse planning permission for the development.
Planning permission for both solar farms is for 25 years with the time period for permission to develop them set at 10 years.