A large number of local farmers gathered for a meeting last Tuesday in Denvirs Hotel for the inaugural meeting of a new farmer’s organization. Elliot Bell of the UFU and Cllr Cadogan Enright were invited guests to provide technical advice. ‘Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy’ was formed following several years of campaigning to be allowed to diversify their businesses into renewable energy in the face of considerable difficulties with the planning service and the electricity grid since 2007 and before.
The main business was the upcoming visit to Minster Attwood, facilitated by local MP Margaret Ritche.
Chairperson James Carson of Tyrella expressed gratitude for the ongoing support of Ms Ritchie to some of the farmers at the meeting, and for the historical opposition of herself and Eddy McGrady to nuclear power at Sellafield. Other local politicians from Sinn Fein and the UUP had also been supportive.
The meeting discussed problems encountered with many local renewable energy projects, and resolved to inform the Minister that the local planning office was “not fit for purpose”.
PRO Nial Montgomery from Killough pointed out that even where the planning guidelines indicated that a particular site was ideal for wind energy, poor management of the planning process turned a 3 month application into a 3+ year application for local farmers.
Pat Magee of Ballyhornan said “The government is now proposing to spend billions of pounds creating a massive wind development offshore from our farms at huge expense to the taxpayer. None of the revenues from the offshore development will stay in the local area. On-shore wind energy is not only much cheaper, but all revenues arising from on-farm turbines stay in the local area, helping to diversify local farming and keeping family farms intact for the future.”
Cllr Cadogan Enright led a workshop to assemble the issues in a manner suitable for presentation to the Minister. Cllr Enright observed that “Down District farmers are selling to big UK supermarkets. They have to demonstrate how their carbon footprint satisfies British climate change legislation in order to keep their existing markets for meat, milk and cereals. Not being able to generate green power damages employment.”
“The agri-food business in NI is the biggest employer in the province, and across Ireland as a whole. We have to be allowed to reduce our costs in line with our competitors, not just for on-farm employment, but for the many more jobs that exist downstream from the farm” concluded Nial Montgomery