By Dick Hogan
Residents from the Rochfortbridge area, whose homes are close to a planned €500m gas-fuelled power plant project on a 52 acre farm- land site outside the village, on the Tyrrellspass side, were left to consider their options during the week when Westmeath County Council announced it had granted planning permission for the major project.
Last Autumn, when local people with homes near the boundary of the property involved learned about the planning application, they raised objections, primarily because the project proposed was close to their homes, and their serious concerns about proximity and potential health hazards.
About 70 objections were lodged with the Council in October by those who were unhappy with the power plant so close to their homes. There were objections also from An Taisce and others concerned about the environmental impact of the proposed plant.
A further 50 or so objections were submitted to the Council regarding the plan for the large-scale battery energy-storage facility.
Permission for the two sections of the proposed project was sought from the County Council by Lumcloon Energy Ltd. and involved the construction of five gas-powered electricity-producing turbines, capable of generating 275 MW of electricity, and in addition, storage of the electrical power in a large-scale battery energy-storage facility on the same property.
The 26,318 sqm compound with the open area battery energy storage system will contain 264 battery modules, each the size of a shipping container, and associ- ated medium voltage power station enclosures.
The project is expected to generate up to 400 jobs during the three-year construction phase, according to Lumcloon, and when operational, about 25 jobs.
The gas for the five turbines, each of which has a 1ooft chimney, is to come from the natural gas pipeline which is not far away, and the electricity generated will supplement the national grid.
The gas-fired energy project is to be used to provide back-up facilities for the national grid, and would come into use when renewable energy levels fell short.
Westmeath County Council was expected to make a decision on the power plant project in late Autumn of 2021, but then sought further information from Lumcloon Energy Ltd. and a March decision was due.
When Topic sought the view of Sean Staunton of the local Power Plant Objectors’ committee, whose home is within 50 metres of the land where the power plant project will be located, he said they learned of the Council decision early last week.
They were disappointed, but it didn’t come as a total surprise, because they were apprehensive for the past number of weeks, firstly after the Lumcloon group and about eight other similar gas-fired projects were successful in winning contracts in the auction of capacity to supply electricity to Eirgrid.
And then, he said, the Energy Minister, Eamon Ryan, demanded that these must be built while though the planning decision had not been announced.
“We realised at that stage what looked likely to happen and that it might go ahead, and what we were up against,” he said. “The levels of political support for this were clear.”
The Council will get about €1.5m in development levies for the project, he added.
Recently, a planning application to build a house on the main Rochfortbridge-Tyrrellspass Road was turned down on the basis of traffic levels on the road, but the new facility opens onto the same road, a short distance away.
“Of course, Lumcloon was perfectly within its rights to seek permission from the Council for this, but we’re disappointed that the Council didn’t take the interests of local people fully into consideration also,” he said.
“In fairness, Lumcloon have offered to work with us and to minimise the impact of this on our homes and to assist us so that this is masked from view, as much as possible,” he explained.
“We are examining our options,” he said, when asked about the possibility of an appeal, recognising that it would be difficult to succeed, in the present situation.