Bord Pleanála will begin an oral hearing in Clonmel tomorrow on a project which crystallises the national debate on how to dispose of or recycle waste.
A business consortium, Green Organics Energy Ltd (GOE), wants to build a facility for the "environmentally sustainable treatment" of waste, including animal by-products generated by the Irish meat-processing industry.
The proposed location is a "brown-field" site - a former rendering plant - at Castleblake. The townland is near the village of Rosegreen, which is four miles from Cashel and six from Clonmel, and close to Coolmore stud and Ballydoyle stables.
Some of this waste currently has to be exported for incineration because of a lack of treatment options in Ireland. It is estimated that the facility could handle almost half of all the waste produced by Irish meat processors.
GOE would use a system known as "anaerobic digestion" to break down the waste into "biogas" which would then be used to create "green" electricity for the national grid.
Tallow (fat) from the rendered animal waste would be used to make "biodiesel" fuel for use in cars or home heating.
The company claims the facility is "consistent with Government policy", and "in line with commitments under the Kyoto Treaty" for the development of "renewable energy solutions".
However, the plans have seen strong opposition.
The future of Ireland's "world-class bloodstock industry could be in jeopardy" if a waste treatment plant is built in south Tipperary, according to local Fianna Fáil TD Dr Martin Mansergh.
His fellow deputies in the three-seat Tipperary South constituency, Mattie McGrath (Fianna Fáil and Tom Hayes (Fine Gael), also oppose the facility - as does all 25 county councillors.
There are no Green Party public representatives in Tipperary South, but the party's deputy leader and only rural TD Mary White, who represents the neighbouring constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, said she supported "the principle" of developing biofuels as an alternative to oil.
However, she would "have to be sure that there are no negative environmental consequences".
South Tipperary County Council refused planning permission for the project last year, but GOE has appealed to Bord Pleanála. So have many local objectors who all hope to copper-fasten the council's refusal. They include John Magnier's Coolmore stud farm and Ballydoyle stables which employ almost 500.
Opponents have established a group called South Tipperary for Clean Industry. Spokesman Douglas Butler claims it has the support of "90 per cent of people in the area".
The group claims that "trucking huge volumes" of waste into "Ireland's most pristine and valuable agricultural environment makes no sense"; could pose a risk to local water supplies; and cause "noxious smells".
It also disputes the amount of "green" energy that could be produced, and fears that emissions from the plant could affect "the production of high-performance racehorses".
GOE's project manager Paul Barrett declined to be interviewed but, in a written statement, the company said the facility would generate electricity to power the local towns of Cashel, Clonmel and Cahir; supply diesel to fuel 32,000 cars a year; create 100 jobs; offer "a sustainable, viable, environmentally-friendly solution to an urgent requirement for the Irish meat industry"; and invest €100 million into the local community.
The oral hearing, which is open to the public, begins at 10am tomorrow in Clonmel, and is expected to last days.
The planning inspector will then prepare a report, and a final decision from Bord Pleanála is expected by mid-March.
The Irish Times