|Sheep beside solar panels in a farm in England. A similar set-up is to be established near Crumlin, Co Antrim, which will produce enough power for 1,627 homes|
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan yesterday announced the decision to give the go-ahead to Northern Ireland's second large-scale solar farm, which is more than 30 acres in size.
The development by Lightsource Renewable Energy Ltd will be capable of generating 6.5MW of electricity, enough to power 1,627 homes during its 30-year lifetime.
That equates to an annual saving of 2,775 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Mr Durkan said: "This type of development helps sustain our environment through the use of renewable energy.
"These new, more sustainable technologies will contribute to key Programme for Government targets for increasing renewable energy.
"This application was turned around in under four months, which demonstrates my commitment to improving service delivery and supporting the green economy."
DoE Planning consulted Antrim Borough Council and it raised no objections to the proposal.
The solar farm at Knockcairn Road will be built on land that was formerly used for the grazing of cattle.
The company says that due to the small footprint of the solar farm, with panels occupying less than 30% of the land, the site will be seeded with grass and sheep grazing can continue.
The panels will be mounted on an aluminium framework with steel legs which can be pile-driven into the soil, so at the end of the lease period the installation will be dismantled and removed without harming the land and wildlife should be unaffected.
Conor McGuigan, business development director at Lightsource Renewable Energy, said: "We are essentially a new generation of tenant farmer – primarily generating energy, but also taking care of the land – keeping livestock, maintaining hedgerows, building wildlife habitats and sowing wild flowers.
"We want to ensure a bright future for renewable energy in Northern Ireland and the approval of this development is an encouraging step as we work towards that goal."
Technical director Chris Buckland said: "Local energy consumption take-off will consume some, if not the majority, of the energy generated.
"Depending on the voltage level at which the generated energy is connected to the grid, and where this is in the local distribution network, there may well be a voltage reinforcement or stabilisation of the line to which the power is connected.
"So local consumers might see any 'voltage drop' problems, such as dim lights, much improved whilst the solar farm is generating."
Solar panels do not require direct sunlight to produce electricity, only daylight. So they still work well on cloudy days, and actually perform more efficiently in cooler temperatures. All existing hedgerows and vegetation around the site will be retained. New hedgerows will be planted to minimise views into the site and provide a further boost to wildlife through the strengthening of foraging habitats.