Mainstream plans 5GW Irish wind complex to pump power to UK

Ireland will host an onshore wind complex of up to 5GW solely dedicated to exporting electricity to the UK, under plans unveiled by developer Mainstream Renewable Power.

The company wants to build the wind park, called Energy Bridge, across a swathe of rural land in the Irish midlands.

It hopes to have the necessary planning permissions by 2015 and to begin exporting the first power by 2017, when it expects to have 1.2GW in place.

Mainstream chief executive Eddie O’Connor claims the situation of the energy-hungry UK – which needs to meet renewable power targets, and has an ageing conventional and nuclear fleet – has created a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for neighbouring Ireland.

He claims wind has the potential to generate €2.5bn ($3.1bn) a year in export revenues for Ireland – equivalent to those of the nation’s dairy industry.

The UK and Irish energy ministers met last week to discuss energy trading between the two nations.

Ireland sees clean energy as a major export opportunity, though key issues such as the status of UK renewables incentives for Irish-based projects need to be resolved before those ambitions can move forward in earnest.

The two governments hope to have a memorandum of understanding on renewable-energy exports in place by the end of the year.

Energy Bridge's wind farms and cables would be completely separate to Ireland’s existing electricity system and not be paid for by the Irish consumer, says Mainstream.

It does not give details of how the projects would be financed. However, O’Connor is quoted by the Irish Times newspaper as naming China as a likely source of investment.

Mainstream has worked with Chinese partners elsewhere in the world – for example on a 70MW wind project in Chile, which attracted finance from the China Development Bank.

Last summer Mainstream grabbed the attention of the global renewables business by inking a 1GW memorandum of understanding with China’s Sinovel to buy turbines for projects in Ireland.

However, that deal was subsequently placed on hold while Sinovel attempts to untangle its legal dispute with US wind technology supplier AMSC.

Mainstream claims Energy Bridge would create huge spin-off benefits for the economy and employment, especially in the midlands, where the company this week opened a new office.

The Irish company plans solely to use underground cabling for Energy Bridge and has already paid more than €500,000 to secure a grid connection to Britain.

It has identified 900 landowners in the area who may be suitable to host turbines.

Mainstream development manager for Ireland Diarmuid Twomey says: “These areas are already designated for wind farm development by the local authority, are in sparsely populated areas and have good wind speeds.

“A big advantage for farmers is that the land can continue to be used for farming purposes when the turbines are erected.

“This is an opportunity to generate a very substantial and guaranteed revenue stream over a 25-year period which will have minimal impact on the land, providing an additional revenue to future generations of farmers,” Twomey adds.