Anger over Kells solar farm scheme

Local architect Jane Burneside lays it on the line to Ronan Kilduff of Elgin Energy at last week's public meeting about solar power in Ross Park Hotel. INBT 47-102JC
Local architect Jane Burneside lays it on the line to Ronan Kilduff of Elgin Energy at last week's public meeting about solar power in Ross Park Hotel. INBT 47-102JC

Around 150 residents from the Kells area attended an “angry” public meeting about proposals for a 200-acre solar farm.

Bristol-based Elgin Energy hosted a public consultation meeting at the Ross Park Hotel last week about the proposal.

Concerned resident and architect Jane Burnside said that residents had received just one working day’s notification of the meeting.

“They refused to do a presentation for the public,” she said.

She added: “They wanted to pick us off one at a time to fulfil their legal requirements and say they had held a public consultation.”

The meeting was attended by Stormont MLAs David Ford, Robin Swann, Paul Frew and Jim Allister.

“I went up onto the podium and asked Elgin’s [managing director] Ronan Kilduff if he would do a public presentation for everyone,” Ms Burnside said.

“He said it was not company policy.

“A lot of the neighbours replied, ‘if you are not prepared to do a public presentation then you should not be here’.

“They were very angry.

“This is a very scenic area. Walkers, cyclists and horse riders use it all the time. But this would turn it into an industrial wasteland.

“Even in England there is nothing on this scale.”

She added: “We put it to them that the company has only been active since mid-2012 and that they are in negative equity of £3 million.

“This [project] would require a five-mile security fence to stop people being electrocuted.

“That is of grave concern to residents whose children play in the countryside.”

A spokeswoman for Elgin Energy said that residents and elected representatives were invited to the public consultation, with over 500 letters sent out last week.

“Six members of the Elgin team were at the public consultation and in the hotel for three hours talking to local representatives,” she said.

“They had questionnaires, presentation boards and were on hand to respond to any queries and questions for three hours.

“This is the way the company have always conducted public consultations.

“Mrs Burnside arrived and demanded a formal podium presentation – she herself took the podium to make representations to the company and press a formal Q&A.

“Mr Kilduff felt at the time there was little point in challenging Mrs Burnside, who was basing her claims on inaccurate year-old accounts figures which only reflected the extent of the investment in the company.

“The company is a solvent, well-funded company with strong investment partners.”

The company has developed five solar projects which are now operational and there are a further five over the next six months, she added.

Elgin used plans and presentation boards to show how the project would look.

“The fencing required is an energy ndustry standard; a government and insurance requirement to ensure the site is secured – and applies to any energy site,” she added.

A DOE spokesman said all planning applications will be determined on their own merits.

In February Environment Minister Mark H Durkan approved plans for a 27-acre solar farm near Downpatrick.