“The peace project of our time” – the first solar park with grid feed goes into operation

When there is a divide between farming and environmental concerns, the Johnston family seamlessly bridges it by using their sheep to help protect the climate.

revor, Romy and their daughter Emily (15) own a large part of the 60 hectares on which the country’s first solar park is installed. The grass is lush under and between the rows of solar panels.

Neoen, the French energy company that leases the land, might hire grass mowers to maintain the site, but sheep are the experts.

“We pay for the land, a guaranteed annual payment for 25 years,” said Cyril Perrin, managing director of Neoen Ireland. “And we also pay for the sheep. They also work for us.”

It was all the easier for the Johnstons to reduce the number of their sheep grazing on the land by about a quarter to accommodate the panels.

“The panels protect the sheep from rain and sun like sheds, so they’re very happy too,” Mr Johnston said.

“And the land remains agriculturally zoned, which is very important for farmers and for acceptance in the wider community,” Ms Johnston added.

The Millvale solar farm went live yesterday and its 182,000 square foot solar panels in Milltown, Co. Wicklow are expected to generate 8 to 15 megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to power around 3,600 homes.

It is the first solar farm to feed electricity into the national grid, but many more are in the planning stages or under construction, including two other Neoen sites.

The national strategy envisages having 2.5 GW (2,500 MW) of solar power by 2030.

Conall Bolger, of the Irish Solar Energy Association, said that while Millvale’s turn on was a milestone for Ireland, national ambitions should be higher.

“We believe 6 GW is possible by the end of this decade, which would be enough to meet one-fifth of our total electricity needs,” he said.

Environment Secretary Eamon Ryan stressed that 2.5 GW is “not a limit but the baseline for our ambition”.

“We’re going to go ahead and deliver more from there,” he said.

He said the situation in Ukraine has shown more clearly than ever the need to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

“It’s the peace project of our time — the way you respond to ransom demands, blackmail and the use of fossil fuels as a geopolitical weapon,” he said.

The Johnstons are aware of the importance of their move into solar energy, but as energy pioneers they are taking their money.

“Our home is called Millvale because generations ago our family had the local mill and mill that used water, a renewable energy source, so history repeats itself,” Johnston said.

“And in a way, nothing has changed,” added his wife. “We’re still farming, we’re just farming energy now.”

https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/the-peace-project-of-our-time-first-solar-farm-to-feed-power-into-grid-goes-live-41602215.html “The peace project of our time” – the first solar park with grid feed goes into operation

Fry Electronics Team

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