PLANS to construct the North’s biggest ever wind farm in one of the most scenic areas of Tyrone took a step forward this week.
Scottish energy conglomerate SSE plan to erect 36 wind turbines in the Doraville region of the Sperrins, which lies between Broughderg, Greencastle and the Glenelly Valley.
The £150 million 115MW project, which SSE say could power up to 85,000 homes, advanced to the next stage on Monday after the wind energy supplier submitted an environmental statement to the Department of Environment along with the findings of a recent community consultation.
SSE has described the results of the consultation as “a major boost” for the plan, with 53 per-cent saying they are in favour of the wind farm.
However, a significant number of people living in the area remain vehemently opposed to the project, claiming it will impact on the environment, their way of life and future plans for the area.
The 6,000 acre hill farm earmarked for the new wind farm lies in a designated ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’.
The site also lies near the iconic Beaghmore stone circles and Davagh Forest Trails, which attracts 40,000 people a year to the area.
The Broughderg Community Association are also in the process of securing ‘dark sky’ status for the area, which would make it one of Europe’s prime destinations for star gazing.
Resident and local Sinn Féin councillor, Sean Clarke, said many people in the area are “distraught” at the plans.
“An awful lot of people in this community are very upset. They fear that what they are used to, and what they have come to expect here, is liable to be damaged.
“It’s really heart-breaking for me to look at the local people and the amount of work they are doing for their community, for their neighbours and for their families, just to preserve their way of life. All they want is to be left in peace.
“There are older people who have lived here all their lives, there are people starting out with young families, and they are distraught.
“I do fear for their health and the effect this will have on them.”
However SSE’s community liaison officer, Bronagh Gormley, said the energy firm had listened to local people.
She said the total number of proposed turbines had been reduced from 42 to 36, with layouts revised that she said “avoids impacting on the most sensitive views that people were concerned about”.
SSE said its consultation showed 72% of people were in favour of renewable energy in general.
“What is clear from the community consultation is that there is strong support locally for renewable energy, with many seeing the positives that renewable energy and Doraville Wind Farm in particular can bring,” she claimed.
SSE have also projected that £50m of the £150m investment in Doraville can be secured by businesses in the north, with potentially £15.6m going to firms in the north west.
The wind energy supplier said the turbines could also generate £28.8m in rates payments in their lifetime.
SSE have also announced that it will create a £1m Doraville Grant Aid Scheme to improve and develop tourism and recreation in the area.
But Cllr Clarke claimed that SSE has not shown any interest in Broughderg Community Association’s future plans for the area, including the ‘dark sky’ process, which could see the area gain international recognition.
The resident also hit out at SSE for refusing to hold a community engagement event in Broughderg, which regularly hosts large public meetings.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that the people who put on a show of being environmentally friendly and supporting communities, won’t talk to the community,” he said.
Cllr Clarke also described SSE’s community grants as “a PR exercise”, claiming the energy supplier’s motivation was purely financial.
He claimed the company could be in line for government subsidies of up £300,000-400,000 for each turbine.
“It’s all a case of siphoning off a good return,” he said.