Plans to create first ‘zero carbon’ rural community

AN Irish countryside community is aiming to create the world’s first rural zero carbon district under a plan that would see it switch to totally green means of power, transport and production within 10 years.

Some 650 households in and around Ballynagran, Co Wicklow, are included in the ambitious project inspired by the goal of completely eliminating emissions of carbon, the so-called greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.

They plan to start with simple measures like switching over every single light fitting to energy saving bulbs and carrying out energy audits on all homes, businesses premises and public buildings to see how they can be better insulated.

But by 2020, they hope to have windmills, biomass energy production and solar panels supplying power, electric vehicles on every driveway, rainfall harvesting to save on water, community allotments and orchards for food production and possibly reopening the long abandoned Glenealy railway station to take advantage of the Dublin-Rosslare train.

Experiments with zero carbon communities are taking place around the world but only in new housing developments or existing urban neighbourhoods where residents live in close proximity and share utilities.

The Ballynagran Zero Twenty project takes in a circular area 6km in diameter with a mix of one-off houses, farms, a population concentration in Glenealy village, as well as dispersed clusters of new homes and older dwellings built long before energy efficiency were buzzwords.

Pat King, a local resident and vice-chairman of the voluntary committee behind the plan, said: “It will be particularly challenging because of the rural nature of the area. Transport will be a big issue and farming too, because agriculture is a big producer of methane [which also releases carbon].

“But it’s going to be very exciting. There are a lot of different ideas out there and our plans will change over the years as new innovations develop.”

Ironically, the location for the project was decided by an operation once viewed as an environmental hazard.

All the households are within a 3km radius of Ballynagran dump where operators, Greenstar, pay an annual levy into an environmental fund overseen by Wicklow County Council.

The committee have a €150,000 start-up grant from the fund that will allow them appoint a full-time project manager in the coming weeks and employ two workers to begin the energy audits. “We’ve also been pledged €30,000 in materials from three local companies to retrofit part of the school in Glenealy with insulation as a case study of the kind of improvements that can be made.”

The project also plans to use the home improvement grants scheme run by Sustainable Energy Ireland and to tap into EU funds once it gets off the ground.


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