A €150 MILLION Co Clare wind farm, bigger than the one which was refused planning permission in Connemara last week, has been approved by An Bord Pleanála.
The wind farm at Mount Callan near Miltown Malbay in west Clare will have a maximum capacity of 87 megawatts – enough to supply the whole county with electricity.
The Mount Callan wind farm, though a standalone facility, is seen as a vital part of plans to build a proposed pump storage facility at the site. The intention is to use surplus wind energy to pump water from the bottom of the mountain to the top. The water is released when the wind is not blowing, generating energy.
The Mount Callan facility is being seen as a precursor of the bigger Spirit of Ireland project, which will use sea water to generate huge amounts of electricity.
Locals objected on the basis that the wind farm would be visually intrusive and affect the hen harrier population in the area.
In its judgment, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission subject to 19 conditions.
It stated that the proposed wind farm would “not seriously injure the amenities of the area” nor have an impact on natural species.
It said it was in keeping with the proper planning and sustainable development in the area.
The granting of planning permission is a relief for the applicants, mostly local farmers who have created a co-op.
Last week An Bord Pleanála turned down an 83-megawatt wind farm in Connemara on the basis that it would be too intrusive on the local environment.
West Clare Renewables managing director Pádraig Howard said the Connemara result last week had “shaken our confidence”.
However, he said Clare County Council’s decision to do the strategic environmental assessment on the area and identify sites for wind before planning permission was sought proved to be critical in their success.
Earlier this year the council announced a €2 billion strategy in renewable energy, including a €900 million pumped-storage hydroelectricity plant, which is to be included in the Clare county development plan.
The British government has also declared its intention to buy surplus wind-generated electricity from Ireland to meet its own renewable targets.
Mr Howard said he and other locals had financed the project themselves to date and were now hoping to get major investors involved.
They claim to have letters from international finance houses saying the investment is ready now that planning permission has been granted.
“We hope to finance this with a mixture of debt and equity. We hope there will be an opportunity for local landowners and the wider community to invest, so there will be real local ownership,” he said.
Engineer Pat Gill, who is involved with the project, said it was critical now to get grid connection and that the previous government policy was “at sixes and sevens” in that regard.
Wind speeds on Mount Callan, which is 329m high (1,300ft), are among the highest in the country because of its elevation, its isolation and proximity to the Atlantic.
Planning permission has been granted for 29 turbines, which will all be located on the slopes rather than the flat top of the mountain because of the visual impact.
It is estimated that the capacity factor – the percentage of the total capacity that can be generated – is 40 per cent.
The European average is 22 per cent and the Irish average is 29 per cent.