22 May 2022

Massive solar farm being planned for Offaly

Solar farm

Massive solar farm being planned for Offaly

A massive solar farm is in the process of being planned for Blackwater Bog in West Offaly.

The Blackwater Solar Farm project is being driven by Bord na Móna and the ESB; and will cover an area of 1,079 hectares.

Bord na Móna and the ESB say they will submit a planning application in early 2023.

Speaking to the Midland Tribune, an ESB Press Officer pointed out that the farm is “in the early stages of development and the design has not yet been finalised but pending approval, we expect that it will be among the largest solar farms in Ireland under development.”

Asked what the cost of the project will be, the Press Officer said that until the design of Blackwater Solar Farm is finalised “we will not be able to determine the full construction costs.”

Regarding the construction period, he commented, “The construction timelines will depend on the length of time it takes to get planning approval and reach financial close – we are hopeful that it can be constructed within five years.”

The general public is usually much more supportive of solar farms than wind farms. Blackwater Solar Farm is no different. “The ESB and Bord na Móna,” said the press officer, “have received positive feedback on the proposed project from the local community.”
As the project is at any early stage it has not yet been determined how many houses will get energy from the farm.

Local houses won't be part of a Near Neighbour Scheme. (Near Neighbour Schemes offer electricity bill payers living within a prescribed distance of a wind turbine an annual contribution towards their electricity bills). “The project will export electricity to the national grid,” said the press officer, “and we do not envisage a near neighbour scheme as the local community will benefit from the project in other ways including a community benefit fund.” (In the Community Benefit Fund the ESB supports community projects which address “current and emerging local issues.”)

Other benefits arising from the proposed Blackwater Solar Farm will include amenity trails and rates paid to the Local Authority. The project will also create jobs during construction and a number of long-term jobs in security, operation and maintenance, as well as indirect employment created through the supply of a wide range of products and services.

Last week the ESB and Bord na Móna held two community engagement sessions about the project, in Shannonbridge Community Hall and Belmont's High Street Hall. The sessions were told that the farm will be only about a kilometre from Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge and about six kilometres from Ferbane.

Blackwater Bog covers an area of 2,300 hectares (5,700 acres). Less than half of it (1079 hectares / 2,666 acres) will be used for the solar farm. For decades the Bog supplied milled peat to West Offaly Power Station in Shannonbridge until the power station was closed down in December 2020.

The solar farm will entail the installation of rows of solar PV panels on mounted frames across the bog. One megawatt of Solar PV panels will usually require an area of two hectares. Solar Farms typically operate for 30 to 40 years. At the end of that period a landowner hosting one may want to reach a new arrangement under which the solar farm is “repowered” with newer technology, or the landowner (in this case, Bord na Móna) may choose to have the solar farm removed.

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