Solar farm plan for Cortown lands

Allegation that planning notices were interfered with

A planning application for a solar farm project in Cortown includes a copy of a garda statement detailing interference with the planning notice erected on the site.

A representative of the company, Harmony Solar Meath, says that he erected the notice on 1st March last just after 11am. He left to erect other notices around the sites, and just over an hour later, returned to the original location.

"When I arrived back at 12.10hrs, the sign notice was gone. Someone had ripped it clean off as it was screwed in place to the ditch," he told gardai in Kells.

The application for a solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy project concerns two parcels of land, at the Milltown and Moyagher Lower townlands, identified by the company as the north parcel and south parcel respectively.

The north parcel is set back 400 metres from the public road, comprising agricultural lands of just over 41 hectares. Solar panels are proposed on these lands, together with site tracks and linking electrical infrastructure. All cabling will be placed underground. Also proposed on these lands is the main site electrical substation, from which it is intended to link into the national grid by connecting to the existing 110 kilovolt (KV) electrical cables that traverse the lands, with 16 metre high masts. The substation will have a 100kv capacity, and the electricity generated on both solar farms will be directed into it. When operational, EirGrid will take charge of the substation. Access is proposed from the local L8335 road.

The south parcel, 1.5km from the north lands, comprises 80 hectares, with a ‘Ring Main Unit’ linking to the substation by underground cable. Access will be via the L8003 local road.

Harmony Solar says the site has been selected for a number of reasons: The limited environmental impacts, including ecology, landscape and visual impact, cultural heritage and archaeology, with each of these aspects being assessed in detail for the planning application;

Sunlight intensity levels – the site has good annual irradiation levels (the amount of solar energy that arrives at a specific area at a specific time), as the land is relatively flat, with limited overshadowing from trees of buildings;

The lands are located close to a connection with the National Grid via the 110kv cable;

Planning policy – Meath County Council is supportive of renewable energy developments and efficiency improvements in a sustainable manner as a response to climate change.

The planning application is being made in two parts. The application for the solar farm and its parts on both parcels of land will be a planning application made to the county council. The substation proposed for Milltown has been deemed by An Bord Pleanala to be a Strategic Electrical Infrastructure, and that application will be made to the planning board.

Harmony Solar says that at both parcels, existing hedgerows will be retained, and a number of additional ecology, biodiversity, and landscaping screening measures are proposed.

"Solar panels when installed are regarded to have a low level of impact," the applicant says. "Solar electricity generation produces no carbon emissions, and panels have no moving parts. There is no risk to ground water or to the public from the electrical equipment."

Additional structures withing the site will include security fencing, inverter/transformer units, and passive infra-red CCTV cameras facing inwards on the site only.

The proposal seeks installation of the solar farm for a period of up to 35 years, the expected operational life of such projects. Following this, the site will be decommissioned, the solar farm removed, and the lands returned to agricultural use, the applicants anticipate.

A number of submissions by local residents have been made on the file, with a council decision due on 26th April.

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