A 43ha solar development at Rathduff, Co Tipperary has been objected to by neighbouring farmer and organic beef producer John Purcell.

Purcell is the managing director of the Good Herdsmen, a Cahir-based beef processor which is owned by Larry Goodman. However, he owns and farms the 350ac farm at Rathduff in his own right, under the Good Herdsmen brand.

While supportive of the need for renewable energy sources with appropriate consultation, Purcell has written to Tipperary County Council (TCC) with claims that the proposed solar PV farm has “ignored” his “civil rights”.

The 58-page objection submission, seen by the Irish Farmers Journal, demonstrates that Purcell’s lands, used for the production of organic beef, are just over the ditch of the proposed 43ha renewable energy development.

As well as some 40,000 solar PV panels, the solar farm planning applicant, Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Ltd, also seeks permission to construct a single storey electrical substation building, electrical transformer and inverter substation modules, internal access tracks, security fencing, electrical cabling and ducting, and CCTV. RES says the solar farm will be operational for 35 years.

Taking advantage

Purcell, who founded Good Herdsmen in 1989 to supply organic beef for the domestic and export market, claims RES is “using the Government’s climate emergency as a source of pressure on [the council] to make a rash decision”.

He said that the proposed development site “already has a low carbon footprint due to the way it is organically farmed” and warned that “while Ireland is transitioning to a low carbon future, we must conserve and maintain our landscape, and one should not be at the mercy of the other”.

“RES has applied to place 40,000 solar panels in an area of unbelievable beauty, a vista representing Ireland at its best and unparalleled to anywhere in Europe.”

The Tipperary organic beef producer said that the renewable energy company plans to convert 107ac of “prime Golden Vale land” into a “sea of plastic and metal panels”.

Purcell pointed to other solar farms under development or recently opened in Tipperary and Cork on bogs and an industrial site and said that this “sensible planning” at “brown site locations” is “where solar farms belong”, instead of prime agricultural land.

Ecological impact assessment

The Good Herdsmen managing director said that the ecological and environmental impact assessment of the proposed solar development, carried out by NEO Environmental, is “very weak”.

While he acknowledged that the development owners propose to graze sheep and grow hedgerows, wildflowers and trees, Purcell said the “broad narrative” is “not specific enough”.

He claimed that the environmental impact assessment has “failed to recognise” the area’s hare, swan, fox and bee populations.

Business impact

Ultimately, John Purcell says that the “solar PV development will impact my business”. He says that Good Herdsmen receives 20-25 international visitors per year and warned that the proposed energy development has the “potential to cause a catastrophic visual impact” and ruin the sustainable image that the organic beef producer has “worked hard to create”.

“For us, it’s important that the visuals are correct and then back it up with our environmental credentials and sustainable farming practices,” he said.

He said that the solar PV farm “kills a vision I have for my farm for my sons and future generations”.

Bord Bia involvement

To substantiate these concerns, Purcell included a letter from Bord Bia meat and livestock team senior manager Joe Burke in his planning objection submission. Purcell says that Bord Bia uses his farm “a few times a year” to “showcase Irish grass-fed beef in low carbon settings”.

In the letter, Joe Burke said that Purcell has “embraced all the values that are at the heart” of Bord Bia’s Origin Green. He highlighted the tree and hedge planting, outdoor grazing, straw bedding and how animals “grow naturally” on the farm and said that this “never fails to leave a long-lasting positive impression with international buyers”.

“With this in mind, I would implore that any developments to the surrounding landscape would not detract from this experience,” Burke said.

Interested parties can continue to make submissions to Tipperary County Council (TCC) on the proposed solar PV development at Rathduff until the 2 June 2022.

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