Planning row in Kerry over renewable energy station

A planning row has erupted in a north Kerry village over plans by a renewable energy firm to complete a partially developed power and heat-generation facility.

Kerry Education and Training Board (ETB) is one of several objectors appealing against a recent decision of Kerry County Council to grant retention permission for existing works on the renewable energy plant at Causeway because of its proximity to the village’s secondary school.

Sandford Energy also secured approval to complete development of the plant, which will produce a methane-rich biogas and nutrient-rich fertiliser from a process known as anaerobic digestion.

It involves biodegradable material being broken down by micro-organisms in an oxygen-free environment through a natural process of decomposition and decay. Most organic material can be used in the process including domestic and municipal organic waste and animal manures and slurries.

The company had sought retention permission after it had been issued with a warning letter by the council in April 2018 and an enforcement notice a month later over unauthorised development on the site.

Sandford Energy plans to construct silos for storing silage and feedstock as well as an ESB substation which will connect with the national grid.

Around 14,000 tonnes of feedstock are expected to be transported to the site each year, with a daily average of two deliveries including 2,000 tonnes of cattle manure.

Sandford Energy said no gas would be stored on site as it would be used directly by the plant’s combined heat and power unit.

Tim Leahy, the company’s owner and farmer, said the plant is designed to produce the equivalent of the annual electricity use of 517 households and enough thermal energy to heat 126 homes annually.

“The proposed facility will be designed and operated to prevent generation of odour as much as possible in order to maximise biogas production,” said Mr Leahy.

He claimed that the facility would have a positive impact on odours in the environment due to use on farmland of organic fertiliser generated as a by-product of the process instead of untreated slurry.

The company said the flaring of gases at the plant was only proposed as a safety override facility.

The majority of objectors raised concerns about the safety of the facility, which is close to local houses, a school, and GAA pitch, as well as issues about odour, noise, and road safety.

Kerry ETB is challenging the ruling to give the facility the go-ahead because of its close proximity to Causeway Comprehensive School which has around 470 students enrolled.

One of the objectors, Wym O’Connell, said the fundamental process of an anaerobic digestion facility is an “inherently high-risk installation” with the potential to cause explosions or fires in the event of “accidents, spillage or mismanagement”.

Planners with Kerry County Council ruled that concerns over the development could be addressed by stipulating certain planning conditions.

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency has welcomed the increase in anaerobic digestion of waste as it facilitates the amount of waste that can be recycled instead of being sent to landfill.

A ruling by An Bord Pleanála is due in August.

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