Ambitious €200m plan to build Ireland’s largest wind farm

28 May 2009

A wind farm capable of powering every home and business in Co Clare that will cost €200m to construct could create 300 jobs in the area.

If it gets the necessary planning approval and permission for grid connection, a co-op of 30 wind farm families known as West Clare Renewable Energy (WCRE) hopes to construct over 30 three-megawatt wind turbines on the slopes of Mount Callan.

Mount Callan is a 391-metre-high mountain located between Ennis and Miltown Malbay.

The company claims the proposed €200m project would be capable of generating enough electricity to power every home and business in Co Clare, as well as meeting the Limerick Clare Energy Agency’s 2010 targets for emissions reductions and renewable energy production.

The community-based scheme is expected to provide up to 300 jobs during the construction phase.

WCRE is comprised of renewable energy firm West Clare Renewables and 30 farm families who collectively own 3,000 acres of primarily upland properties on Mount Callan.

The landowners have a majority shareholding in the company and have also included a significant community fund aspect to the project.

“WCRE believes that this site represents an optimal location for a renewable energy project of this nature and meets all the principles of sustainability,” said company chairman and Clare-based entrepreneur, Padraig Howard.

“We have employed what we believe are the leading environmental and planning experts, who have carried out detailed wildlife, geological and hydrological studies on site at Mount Callan over the past three years. Their reports have confirmed that from an environmental perspective Mount Callan is a suitable location for a wind farm development. A detailed environmental impact study is to be submitted with the planning application.”

Howard, who is a member of the newly launched Spirit of Ireland initiative, pointed out that Clare is also the only county on the Western seaboard of Ireland with the existing electricity grid capacity to accommodate the additional renewable energy power.

“We are confident that we have devised a scheme that will greatly benefit the local community and generate significant amounts of renewable energy, which will power thousands of homes without generating any harmful carbon emissions.” 

Howard explained that a co-operative approach to developing the proposed project had been established to maximise tangible economic and environmental benefits for local farming families and the wider community.

“The concept of developing a wind farm on Mount Callan has been investigated by local landowners for over 15 years in order to supplement farm incomes and retain the next generation on the land. Various wind farm development approaches have been looked at and progressed by and on behalf of the farming families, many of whom have been in the area for over five generations.

“In the past two years, a new co-operative model, developed in partnership with West Clare Renewables, was assessed independently by the farming families’ own wind energy expert. The model has been worked on and adopted by the 30 local landowners, and has subsequently been adopted by the Spirit of Ireland group.

“As long-term guardians of the land, these farming families are determined that the wind farm project being put forward for design and planning meets best international practices and standards, including the Irish Government’s own Wind Farm guidelines issued in 2007.”

Local landowner John Talty said the wind farm project would ensure the economic sustainability of the local community and wider economy for the next 30 years at least.

“I became involved with local efforts to develop a wind farm project on Mount Callan over 15 years ago, having identified a viable opportunity to create long-term sustainable employment and reverse a generations-old trend of emigration from this area. The project that is being progressed will present small landowners, who are struggling to secure an income from farming, with an alternative source of income that will sustain their livelihoods.”

Talty said that members of the local community would be afforded first preference regarding construction work and full-time employment, once the wind farm was up and running.

Fellow Mount Callan landowner Fred Tottenham added: “My family have farmed on Mount Callan since the 1830s. In the 1960s, my father, Robert, started to plant trees on the mountain after he realised that west Clare had some of the best soil for forestry in Ireland.

“He was always interested in harnessing the wind to produce energy and we are delighted that Mount Callan may soon offer a new source of income to the local community. This is a real and viable way to address rural depopulation and sustain the livelihoods of current and future generations residents in the area,” Tottenham added.

Renewable energy is being seen as a genuine way of making the midwest region of Ireland energy-independent , and moves to replicate the Mount Callan project elsewhere in the region need to be encouraged, said Pat Stephens, manager of the Limerick Clare Energy Agency.

“Moves in a greener direction, both in terms of energy creation and sustainability, mean that we must continue to explore and exploit new ways of generating electricity,” Stephens pointed out.

“Renewables development is particularly important for Ireland, which is nearly 90pc dependent on fossil fuels for its energy requirements and spends billions of euro on importing fuel each year.

“Ireland’s security of supply is threatened by price volatility and our vulnerable position at the end of the European gas pipeline. As potentially one of the country’s largest wind farms, the community-led project proposed for Mount Callan could, subject to planning approval, certainly help overall efforts to source more secure energy supplies, as well as meet the Government’s targets for green energy.

“Co Clare has a proud and lengthy track record in delivering large-scale energy projects such as the Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Power Station and the coal-fired power station at Moneypoint.

“Clare now has the potential to become the renewable energy-generating centre of Ireland, once it harnesses all its natural resources. This would create significant environmental benefits, sustainable employment, generate increased incomes for landowners and farmers, and result in reduced energy costs for consumers,” Stephens concluded.

By John Kennedy