Award winning architect Jane Burnside has launched an impassioned attack on proposals to build the UK’s largest solar farm on lands near Kells.
Speaking at a public meeting hosted by the KellsVocal residents’ group, she blasted Elgin Energy, the firm behind the plans, accusing them of ‘spinning stories’ about job creation and benefits to the local economy.
She told the meeting in Kells and Connor Community Centre that stories of large scale job creation to the benefit of the local area were not based in fact and urged locals not to fall for the ‘Elgin PR’ drive. And she pointed out that Elgin had refused to attend the meeting to address the group’s many legal, environmental and economic concerns.
In a lengthy submission, Ms. Burnside sought to demolish what she termed ‘the myths’ which she alleged Elgin Energy were keen to present as reality to the local public.
And she began with the contention that Elgin were downplaying the sheer size and scope of their plans. She said: “This is not a solar farm or even a solar park - at this scale of 50 MW it is deemed by the solar industry itself to be Solar Power Station - the like of which is more normally found in the wastelands of the Gobi Desert!
“It will be a blight on the landscape - seen near and far - even from the top of Slemish. It is basically the size of 17 Junction Ones.”
Ms. Burnside also expressed reservations about the ‘decommissioning process’ proposed for the farm’s ‘end of life’ and told the meeting that the time had come to take a stand against the application.
“Nothing has been decided upon. The application has only just been lodged so now is the time to act - and we as a community can now have our say. We have around four weeks to gather objections and fight this application,” she said.
Interested parties were briefed on the main reasons for objection which the KellsVocal Group have drawn up as part of their ongoing campaign against the solar farm. Throughout the process, they have been at pains to stress they are not opposed to renewable energy as a concept but the group resolutely disputes many of the claims made about the benefits and cost effectiveness of solar power.
The Ballymena Times asked Elgin for a response to some of the topics raised at the meeting. They said: “Elgin Energy sent out 558 feedback surveys, staged eight Open Days over a period of 3 months and held a public meeting last November. We have met with local councillors, MLAs, stakeholders, community groups and residents and we will continue to do so. All consultation materials and maps are publically available on the Kells project website www.kellssolarpvproject.com
“569 full time jobs will be created during the installation phase of the project. 214 will be directly employed on site, with a further 355 employed indirectly according to the independent report from PMCA Economic Consulting. During the operational phase a further 14 full time jobs will be created per annum, 5 directly and a further 9 from indirect/induced effects during the 25 year lifespan of the project. Solar farms are a temporary structure and are completely reversible at the end of their project lifetime. Decommissioning forms part of the planning conditions.”