Plans for a 46MW solar farm in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, moved one step closer after the country’s environment minister said they should be approved.
However Hadstone Energy, the developer attached to the site, is now committed to a race against time to have the project completed before the 31 March 2017 Renewables Obligation deadline.
Mark Durkan had his approval for the project, which would see around 179,000 solar panels installed on farmland adjacent to the Dublin Road, known via a statement issued this morning.
The scheme would form Northern Ireland’s largest solar farm to date, and Durkan said it would make a “significant contribution” to the country’s wider renewable energy objectives.
The plans initially comprised a 49.9MW solar farm but, following refusal in August, they were amended to reduce the size of the park slightly to minimise the impact on “locally important scheduled monuments”.
“I am therefore satisfied that if the development is carried out sensitively, the impact on these heritage interests will be minimal. I also recognise that the visual appearance of a solar farm of this scale can be significant. In this case I am confident that this site is sufficiently enclosed to minimise its impact on the wider landscape,” Durkan said.
Speaking to Solar Power Portal this afternoon, Hadstone Energy director James Rowe said the next step for the company would be to seek a grid connection agreement, which he admitted would be a “considerable challenge” given Northern Ireland’s electricity infrastructure.
Hadstone would be in line to develop the site itself should grid connection be agreed, however Rowe added that it would “still be incredibly tight” to have the site connected prior to the RO deadline.
The project is one of three Hadstone Energy has submitted plans for according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s planning database, and one of a large number of projects currently in various stages of planning as developers race to enter the fledgling NI market.
A total of 12 utility-scale solar farms have been granted planning permission, with a further 14 currently awaiting a decision.
The main applicant for solar farms in Northern Ireland remains Lightsource, which has 12 applications in with a total capacity of 114MW.
Hadstone Energy could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.