Planning being sought for 100pc community owned wind turbine

A pre-planning application has been lodged for what would be Westmeath’s first community-owned wind energy project.

The pre-validation application submitted by Natural Forces Renewable Energy Limited includes details for the construction of a 4.2MW wind turbine with an overall tip height of up to 150m and a substation on a site at the townland of Loughanstown around just under 3km from Castlepollard.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, a spokesperson for Natural Forces said that the project, if it is given the green light by Westmeath County Council, will be “100 per cent community owned”.

In addition to local investors getting a return on their investment, households within one kilometre of the turbine will receive an annual payment under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS), he said.

In a Community Introduction document submitted with the planning application, Natural Forces says that the “proposed project is intended to be a community partnership”.

“This potential partnership has been made possible with the support of the Irish Government and Department of Energy, Climate and Communications, who want to ensure that communities across Ireland have the opportunity to be involved in the energy transition and benefit from projects in their area.”

Natural Forces also note in the Community Introduction that Westmeath County Council “encourages the development of small-scale wind energy development and single turbines in urban and rural areas... provided they do not negatively impact upon the environmental quality, landscape, wildlife and habitats, or the residential amenity of the area”.

Community to benefit

“Community ownership of wind energy projects enables local communities to benefit directly from local wind energy resources being developed in their local areas, ensuring long-term income for rural communities.”

The spokesperson said that if the project proceeds, Natural Forces would not be shareholders but would remain a “project partner” and would have a “services role” to oversee that it is being run efficiently. The decision due date is February 18.

Meanwhile, Mullingar Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) has welcomed the news that a community solar farm proposed for the site of the former landfill in Marlinstown is part of the latest batch of renewable energy projects around the country that ESB will offer a connection to the National Grid over the coming years.

The project, which is still at the proposal stage, is being promoted by the Mullingar Sustainable Energy Community, with support from Community Power, Mullingar Chamber of Commerce and in consultation with Westmeath County Council.

In a statement to the Westmeath Examiner, Mullingar SEC said that the project is at a “very early stage of development and the announcement by the ESB is just the first tentative step in a long process to bring this project to fruition”.

“Further steps will include testing its feasibility, consulting widely with the local community, seeking planning approval and securing the necessary funding to develop it. If the project is successful, it will be Westmeath’s first 100 per cent community-owed renewable energy project.

“The local group behind the proposal, Mullingar Sustainable Energy Community (SEC), says that it will represent a huge step forward for Mullingar in securing its energy future and making a very significant contribution towards lowering the town’s carbon footprint.”

SEC chairperson Cllr Hazel Smyth said: “This is an exciting first step towards generating a brighter future for Mullingar and Westmeath. While there is a long way to go with the project, a 5MW community-owned solar farm is a win-win scenario: it’s great for the economy of the town and it’s great for the environment. It will also secure the energy future of the town for years to come.”

The offer of the grid connection from the ESB for the project was also welcomed by Mullingar Chamber of Commerce president, John Geoghegan: “Mullingar Chamber is delighted to see this work progress to the next level where a 5MW solar farm could be delivered in the town at the site of the old landfill in Marlinstown.

“This is the beginning of a long journey that we will take to embrace a more sustainable future. We would like to commend the work of the members of both SECs in driving this forward and we very much look forward to doing all we can to assist in this exciting project.”