BNRG Northern Power has been granted planning permission for the first utility-scale solar farm to be built in Ireland or Northern Ireland, a 5.1MW solar farm in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

The Irish renewable energy developer claims the ground-mounted plant in East Down will create around 50 jobs during construction as well as five permanent roles, delivering an investment value of €7.6 million (US$10.4 million).

The plant has a proposed lifespan of 30 years, providing enough energy to power around 1,500 homes. According to BNRG construction will take three months, with the plant utilising 20,300 ground-mounted solar panels.

The 11-hectare PV installation will be less than 2.5 metres in height in order to provide minimal visual impact. BNRG also played up the role such a farm could play in fostering biodiversity on site, citing it as an added advantage over some other types of energy generation.

According to BNRG senior project manager Sean McMullan, the size of the plant would actually double the amount of solar energy produced on the entire Irish island at present, which is currently about 5MW, mostly from small-scale rooftop generation.

“We believe there is considerable potential for large-scale solar generation here, particularly as a genuine alternative to other forms of renewable energy generation such as wind. This new project will more than double the total installed solar power capacity in Northern Ireland,” McMullan said.

BNRG claims that it has a "committed pipeline" of projects for East Down that would bring the company’s combined investment in the area to €44 million (US$60 million).

Another large PV project in Northern Ireland, a 3.8MW commercial rooftop installation proposed by plane and train maker Bombardier, was also granted approval last week by Northern Ireland environment minister Mark Durkan.