Solar energy generator invites residents to share ideas

Lightsource Renewable Energy, the UK’s leading solar energy generator, is inviting residents to discuss proposals to install a solar farm near Rasharkin, in County Antrim. Initial plans for the site, off Finvoy Road, will be displayed at a Community Information Evening from 5.30pm until 8pm, on Monday 22nd September, at Rasharkin Primary School, Bamford Park.

The proposed solar farm would generate locally-sourced energy for more than 1,300 homes and Lightsource hopes to draw on local knowledge to help shape the plans to ensure they are the best fit for the surrounding community.

As well as providing clean energy, the new solar farm could also become a haven for wildlife. Lightsource is working closely with ecologists to create a bespoke Biodiversity Management Plan, which will be put in place to ensure that native species benefit from planting, seeding and habitat creation. The site is well-enclosed by natural vegetation which will keep views into the site to a minimum. 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.

The passive nature of a solar farm makes it ideal for farmland diversification and Lightsource is working closely with the landowner to ensure that the agricultural use of the land is maintained. The entire solar farm site would be seeded with species-rich grass including the area underneath the panels. The wide field margins and gaps between the rows of panels would allow a flock of sheep to graze happily on the solar farm 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 easily to ‘green field’ land.

Conor McGuigan, Planning and Development Director at Lightsource, said: “It’s the ability to generate clean, safe electricity whilst maintaining a respect for rural traditions that makes solar power such a viable renewable energy source. The Finvoy Road site would accommodate the grazing of sheep and could also provide a real boost to local biodiversity. We want residents to get involved as these proposals take shape so that the project can evolve with the guidance of local knowledge and ideas.”

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

- 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. We hope that people in the area will come along to our event to share their local knowledge. We would also 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.”

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 “Finvoy Road” into the search box. An online feedback form is also available on the page.