Dale Farm may soon get the power it needs - from the sun

The Dale Farm factory at Dunman Cookstown.INMM0116-304
The Dale Farm factory at Dunman Cookstown.INMM0116-304

If everything goes to plan at next Monday night’s Planning Committee meeting, Dale Farm could soon have the electricity supply it needs.

Planners at Mid Ulster District Council have recommended that plans for a 36 acre solar Farm just 350m from the Dunmanbridge plant be passed.

The proposed wind farm 350m from Dale Farm

The proposed wind farm 350m from Dale Farm

If given the green light by councillors on the committee, it could be Mid Ulster’s first ever sun farm and one of the largest in Northern Ireland.

The sizeable development, which it appears will cover five agricultural fields just south of the dairy plant, is to provide 4.9MWp of energy - enough to power thousands of homes.

The proposed plant is to include a number of photovoltaic panels on mounting frames, which will be monitored from three control rooms in new buildings, surrounded by a fence and surveyed by pole-mounted CCTV cameras.

Over and underground electricity wires are also proposed in the plans.

And in a report from Corvus Environmental Consulting, which was submitted to planning officials, it has been suggested that around the plant “linear features should be reinforced” with native trees such as Rowan, Oak, Ash, Blackthorn and Alder to “increase biodiveristy and landscape connectivity”.

In 2014, David Dobbin, chief executive of Dale Farm said the firm was forced to puts plans for a £40m expansion of its Cookstown plant on hold because of the lack of electricity and gas infrastructure in the west of Northern Ireland.

It now is hoped that this plant will provide Northern Ireland’s largest milk processing site most of the power it needs to operate.

In a letter urging planners to “prioritise” the application last October - as Renewables Obligations Certifications were coming to a close - Chris McAlinden from Dale Farm said the plant “will provide power to our creamery at Dumanbridge”.

“Cheap, sustainable, renewable and reliable power is strategically important for our business to succeed and this solar farm will bring significant benefits to the business, for example electricity savings,” he wrote, before adding that if planners needed any further information to speed up the application, that they should contact “our agent Beverley Clyde of Strategic Planning”.

But in a statement to the Mail, Dale Farm said: “While Dale Farm does not have any ownership in the proposed solar plant it would be a potential customer of the electricity coming from the plant.

“Dale Farm supported the planning application as it would make available local green energy and there is currently a shortage of available electricity in the local area.”

The agent, who submitted the planning application for Solar Farm DFD Limited - a company that was set up just a month before Mid Ulster District Council received it - said they were unable to comment on the possible approval.

Richard Bowman, who also works for Strategic Planning, said in October that the plant “will unlikely satisfy their [Dale Farm’s] full energy requirements, but it will be a boost to them”.

And that “Dale Farm will be plugging into it”.