Favourable wind for Ballykeel turbine plan

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The developer behind a planned wind farm on the outskirts of Larne has outlined its plans to establish a fund to benefit the local community.

Since its inception in 2007, Larne-based renewable energy firm Wind NI has grown into one of the largest wind power development companies in Northern Ireland.

Established by Colm McClean and Larne man Jonny Barr, the firm employs 12 staff and has more than a dozen fully operational turbines at sites across the province, with more in the pipeline.

And the company is now planning its biggest project to date; a seven-turbine wind farm at Ballykeel, just outside Larne. The turbines would be located in the Starbog Road area and would reach a maximum height of 99.5m. The amount of energy produced over a year would be the equivalent of the domestic demand for Larne – about 12,550 homes.

Representatives from the company paid a visit to Smiley Buildings recently to set out its vision for elected representatives and describe how the scheme would benefit local people.

It intends to divide the community fund into three parts. The first would apply to households within 1km of the boundary of the wind farm, and 16 homes have been identified under this criteria. For those properties, Wind NI intends to cover the cost of an average NI household electricity bill (£700) for the lifetime of the project.

Households within 1-2km of the boundary (27 identified) would receive half the average annual electricity bill.

The third part of the fund would see £20,000 set aside for projects which meet certain criteria. The applicant would have to be either a school or community group and be located within 7km of the wind farm site.

Successful applicants would also need to demonstrate its project is sustainable, for educational or sporting purposes, and not for profit. Wind NI said the project would provide a other benefits for the community, including using local suppliers during construction and recruiting further employees in the area.

Several elected members responded positively. Ald Roy Beggs said the project could be beneficial for nearby residents and communities.

Cllr Gerardine Mulvenna commended the company for being “very open and transparent in their engagement with the community”. She added it was encouraging to note the high level of local employment generated and the use of local suppliers.

Cllr Brian Dunn praised Wind NI for their presentation and the “hard work” the company had carried out, but remained “sceptical” about wind power. However, he said he could not find much to criticise in the proposal and felt he could support the application.

Ald Winston Fulton wished the company well for the future, but said he had not changed his mind about wind farms as he felt they were a blight on the countryside.

Wind NI co-founder Mr Barr told members that the general view of the proposal so far had been positive, with a number of letters of support and only one objection.

He added that, if their planning application was successful, the company hoped to be feeding electricity into the national grid in the next one to three years.