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Stonehall says no to planned biomass plant

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*Thomas Griffin, David Griffin, Vicky Cassley, Mary Quinlivan & Louise McNamara outside the location of the planned biomass plant in Stonehall. Photograph: Joe Buckley

Senior officials in Clare County Council have confirmed there has been “considerable interest” to an application to construct a biomass plant in Stonehall.

A decision regarding the renewable energy development is due to be made by the local authority on Wednesday with over 400 signatures from locals and more than 30 submissions objecting to the works.

At the end of September, Carbon Sole Group Ltd lodged a planning application for the construction of a biomass processing and storage area utilising forestry plants, the construction of a gasification and methanation plant for the production of advanced biofuels, construction of a gasification and combined heat power.

Other aspects include a plant for production of electricity and heating, construction of a battery storage facility (20MW), construction of a thermal Energy recovery and storage facility for district heating distribution and creation of a new access road from the L-3169-0. Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) has stated the plans are “contrary to sustainable and appropriate development”.

Correspondence on behalf of the applicant noted that a number of “separate but interrelated bioenergy production elements” were within the site plan. “The proposed development will use forestry by-products as fuel, approximately 71,000 tonnes of dry biomass woodchip fuel which will generate up to 32MW of Green Energy per year, this will comprise 13MW of Advanced Biofuels/Biomethane, 14MWth Heating, 5 MWe Electricity”.

Carbon Sole have entered into a binding contract to purchase the lands on which the proposed development is situated from the Shannon Airport Authority as per a document dated 3rd September 2020.

An engineers assessment conducted by Carbon Sole flagged that the development does not contain any element which will produce greenhouse gaseous emissions or odorous emissions. “The calculated carbon footprint of the Proposed Development represents a relatively small percentage of the predicted overall CO2 offset. In overall terms the proposed development will offset CO2 emission reductions of 67,486 tonnes per annum”.

Further information to the application has been sought by the Health and Safety Authority who note there was “insufficient technical advice on the application”. Irish Water in a submission flagged that the “water main abutting proposed development is not a public watermain. If development requires connection to a public watermain a mains extension is required in excess of circa 2300m”. An assessment was sought from the Irish Airport Authority on the potential impact to Shannon Airport Navaids signals.

Heritage group, Dúchas na Sionna noted the proximity of the proposed facility to the historical sites formerly home to the 17th century Stonehall House and 15th century Town House. The group registered its concern that the development could impact on the surviving above ground and sub-surface remains of the historic complex of structures at Stonehall. Environmental organisation, Biofuelwatch stated that the environmental report submitted “does not adequately reflect the impacts of the development”.

Clean Air Shannon has been established as a community group to object to the biomass plant. Spokesperson for the group, Vicky Cassley outlined, “There is a huge community objection to this biomass objection plant, there is nobody in the locality who wants it, the site they have chosen is not suitable. I don’t even think people in the town of Shannon know it is on their doorstep, the emissions and the ash from this alone and the way the wind blows I don’t think people in the wider locality actually understand what this is and where it is going and the implication for our environment”.

An international relations graduate of UL, David Griffin feared there were long-term chances of “more sinister fuel” being used. “We have prevailing south-westerly winds going right across the airport, there has no been real mention of the impact of where that parting matter will end up, the cement factory has proven that air pollution can travel but there is no mention of where it can end up. It will have a wider impact than just Shannon and Newmarket-on-Fergus, it is most of the region that will be negatively affected”.

Proximity to Stonehall national school which has roughly 120 students, has been identified as a further concern with a feared impact of increased traffic levels to efforts to promote walking and cycling to school. Chairperson of the Board of Management, Louise McNamara said, “The school is just down there, the road is already congested. I don’t know if there are other suitable sites for a facility like this. Clare County Council needs to look at what the long-term objectives are of what has been submitted because it doesn’t add up”.

Proprietor of The Honk Bar, Mary Quinlivan told The Clare Echo, “This is not the right place for it. It is a very residential area, there is a school a short distance away, it is agricultural land at the moment. The safety aspect is concerning, there is nothing right about this location at all”. She felt an industrial estate would be a more suitable location.

According to 28 year old, Thomas Griffin the biomass plant would result in less young people settling down in Stonehall. “Having something like this down the road from your house is essentially going to decimate property value and the want from anyone else to move into the location. For the likes of myself or anyone that doesn’t own a house and would like to essentially live in the area this is going to be a big turn off for anyone to come here. It will essentially drive people away from our area”.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the Shannon Municipal District, Director of Service, Liam Conneally outlined there had been “considerable interest” to the application by Carbon Sole and described it as an “a renewable energy project based on wood type fuel”.

“It would be remiss of me as a local representative not to say there is a contrary view and quite a large contrary view that it is negative,” Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) said of the application. Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) who made a submission to the development said the Industrial Estate would be a more sensible location.

Industry to the area should be welcomed, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) said but highlighted that the location was inappropriate, “there are a serious amount of disused locations in the Industrial Estate that could be demolished and used, why put it near a national school”. Newmarket-on-Fergus representative, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) detailed that the choosing of the location lacked “common sense”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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