Proposed agricultural anaerobic digestor ‘contrary to sustainability’

Permission has been refused by An Bord Pleanála for the development of an agricultural anaerobic digestion facility in north Kerry, having determined that the digestor would be “contrary to sustainable development”.

Kerry County Council granted permission in 2019 for Sandford Energy Limited to retain and complete the development of the renewable energy facility at the location in Dromkeen West, Causeway.

The proposal outlined that the plant would produce methane-rich biogas through the process of anaerobic digestion. The digester would be built to handle 14,000t of crops and cattle slurry annually, to generate 500kW of electricity and to provide biogas for nearby community buildings.

The proposed development included two digestion tanks, a pasteurisation/pump room, a machinery shed and a storage kilo.

Several parties objected to the council’s decision to allow the development, based on the site’s proximity to the local community and potential issues with odour, noise and road safety.

‘Contrary to proper planning and sustainable development’

On appeal, An Bord Pleanála determined that there was a failure by the applicant, Sandford Energy, to demonstrate that the proposed development would be “served by a satisfactory surface water drainage system”. The board was not satisfied with the plans for how soiled and clean water would be kept separate.

Concerns were also raised by the board about how the measures proposed for the disposal of soiled surface water would be compatible with the operations of the anaerobic digestion facility, especially during periods of heavy rainfall.

The board determined that:

“The proposed development in these circumstances would give rise to the pollution of adjoining land-drains with adverse implications for water quality and, potentially, public health. It would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

Pointing to the absence of a Natura impact statement, the board said it was not satisfied that the proposed development would not be likely to have an effect on the Lower River Shannon Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or any other European site.

What is agricultural anaerobic digestion:
  • Agricultural anaerobic digestion is the process of micro-organisms/bacteria breaking down organic matter (manure and plants) in tanks;
  • The tanks are heated to a temperature between 35° and 50°. As the bacteria breaks down the matter, biogas is released. Biogas is largely made up of methane and carbon dioxide;
  • The gas rises to the top of the tank and is stored until it is used. Biogas can be used as a fuel and to produce electricity.