Gawn Graham, the farmer and owner of the land on which the proposed Kells Solar Project is to be created, says he would not allow anuything to have a negative environmental impact on the area.
He was responding to fears expressed by campaigners who have voiced their opposition to the scheme.
Mr. Graham said: “I believe that this project will benefit the whole community and as I farmer I can assure local people that I wouldn’t engage with any activity that would destroy or impact negatively on the lands my family have looked after and maintained for 55 years. I’ve looked at other renewables and for me solar is the most passive, allowing me to continue to graze sheep, not damage the land in any way and keep the land in agricultural production.
“From an animal welfare point of view, the panels will offer the sheep additional shelter and shade. To me it’s the perfect marriage of electricity production and sheep meat production, enabling me to make an income while I can continue to farm the family lands.”
Mr. Graham said that he and his late father had performed a lot of conversation work on the farm.
“That remains very important to me. All of those conservation efforts are preserved in this solar project. Also the local angling club are involved in monitoring the water on the farm and they’ve said they think the quality will improve with no silage being cut, no slurry or fertiliser being spread on the land either, similar to an organic status.
“To me, that will be beneficial all nature on the site, especially as the plan includes special planting and perches to encourage birds and wildlife. There is no reason why the wildlife and solar can’t live in harmony and that’s why I like solar compared to wind turbines and anaerobic digesters or willows.”
Mr. Graham currently employs a number of part time labourers and contactors on the farm.
“I feel it’s important to point out that that the farm will continue to operate as a sheep farm and I’ll continue to employ all those that I currently work with. I want to assure people that my solicitor and I have gone through the decommissioning element in detail with Elgin and I am very confident that the Farm will be fully decommissioned at the end of the contract as the company have said.
“Some people have said that this will destroy the landscape but there are no bulldozers or concrete needed to build a solar farm. The earth will not be moved and there are no hazardous materials to damage the soil or my sheep. It’s completely passive. From a visibility point of view, this farm is already well screened and the company are going to plant more screening. In fact, Elgin have taken out some of the more visible fields in the final plan submitted.
“Personally, I feel it adds to the mix of renewable projects already in Ballymena and we’re leading the way for Northern Ireland and I feel it would make a significant contribution to reducing Northern Ireland’s carbon footprint. I wouldn’t condone any project which would harm the land or change the landscape where I have lived and worked all my life.”