Residents to discuss plans for Solar Farm

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Lightsource Renewable Energy, the UK’s leading solar energy generator, is keen to draw on local knowledge to help shape proposals for a new solar farm in Ballycastle.

The company is inviting local residents to discuss the plans at a Community Information Evening from 5.30pm until 8pm, on Thursday 11th December, at Sheskburn Community Centre, on Mary Street, in Ballycastle.

The proposed solar farm, on land south of Straid Road, would generate locally-sourced energy for more than 2,500 homes and would save 4,400 tonnes of carbon emissions each year – equivalent to taking 978 large family cars off the roads.

The passive nature of a solar farm presents good opportunity for farmland diversification. The land is currently used as grazing pasture and Lightsource is working with the landowner to ensure that agricultural use of the land is maintained, whilst simultaneously generating renewable energy. The proposed solar farm site at Ballycastle would be entirely re-seeded with grass, allowing sheep to graze happily in the wide field margins and gaps between the rows of panels.

Lightsource is also working closely with ecologists to create a bespoke Biodiversity Management Plan, to ensure that local wildlife benefits from any additional planting, seeding or habitat creation on site. The operation of a solar farm is of no disturbance to farm animals, wildlife or other activities nearby – special “mammal gates” in the fencing surrounding the site will allow small mammals to move undisturbed across the site.

No flood-lighting is needed and there are no moving parts. At the end of a solar farm’s working life, the installation can be pulled out of the soil and the entire area restored to ‘green field’ land. All trees and hedgerows around the solar farm will be retained and enhancements such as bird boxes and ‘bee-friendly’ wildflowers would bring a further boost to local wildlife. As the solar panels would reach a maximum height of just 2.5 metres, existing hedgerows around the site and the topography would screen the majority of views into the solar farm. The proposed site slopes south, away from Straid Road, therefore the solar farm will be not be visible from the road to the north and surrounding vegetation will also limit any views from the south.

Conor McGuigan, Planning and Development Director at Lightsource, said: “Solar farms present many wider benefits to the local area above and beyond the generation of clean, renewable energy and we want to ensure that these plans are a good fit for the local community. We hope that people in the area will come along to our event to share their local knowledge and would encourage anyone who can’t attend the community event to visit our website where the plans can be viewed and suggestions for the proposals can be put forward.”

To help refine the plans before they are submitted, Lightsource is keen to hear from:

- Local residents to provide input into the initial design and planning

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- Wildlife enthusiasts – solar farms provide excellent opportunities to enhance biodiversity and support local initiatives

- Residents with local knowledge which will help inform the route of daytime deliveries whilst the solar farms are being installed

- Security personnel

- Civil roadways experts

- Storage and logistics businesses

- Fencing experts

- Accommodation & food and beverage providers

- Landscapers specialising in local/native species

Conor added: “The Northern Ireland Executives’ target is to meet 40% of our energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. The current figure stands at 13.6%, so there is still considerable work that must be done and solar energy will have a big part to play in helping to achieve this goal. We want to ensure that the right balance is kept between renewable energy generation and rural tradition by supporting existing agricultural industry and through the retention and enhancement of natural wildlife habitats.”

Residents wishing to view the initial proposal in more detail or make suggestions to the Lightsource Planning team can visit the Planning Portal at: www.lightsource-re.co.uk, click ‘In-House Planning’ and type the site name “Straid Road” into the search box. An online feedback form is also available on the page.