Ireland eyes UK wind deal progress

Ireland’s “ambition” is to hammer out an inter-government agreement for the large-scale exportation of wind energy to the UK during the course of 2014, according to the country’s energy minister, giving the proposed scheme a fresh jolt of momentum.

Pat Rabbitte, Ireland’s pro-renewables energy minister, also said it is “difficult to envisage” such a scheme taking off without the utilisation of state-owned lands, in a possible nod to Bord na Mona’s proposal last year to use its peatlands in the Irish East Midlands to build an initial 1GW of wind capacity for export to the UK.

Rabbitte added, however, that it is “not [his] job to favour one developer or another”.

Three developers – Bord na Mona, Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power – have come forward with major proposals to build onshore wind farms in Ireland for export to the UK. The extent to which they might co-operate, if at all, remains unclear.

Rabbitte’s remarks, made yesterday before the Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s lower house, provide the clearest update for months on the memorandum of understanding signed more than a year ago between the UK and Irish governments, with the aim of harnessing Irish on- and offshore wind to help the UK meet its stretching renewables targets.

Significant local opposition has arisen within Ireland to the onshore element of the schemes, although much of it, as Rabbitte pointed out, is based on misinformation.

Rabbitte re-emphasised that no deal would be struck unless the economic and social benefits for Ireland were abundantly clear, and he has recently been hammering the message that Irish taxpayers would not in any way subsidise the projects.

“Local authorities would have to benefit from rate inflows,” he says. “Local communities would have to benefit from appropriate community gain proposals. Ireland Inc. would have to benefit from appropriate returns to the Exchequer and infrastructure to underpin economic and social development.”

Rabbitte insisted that any new wind projects would be subject to Ireland’s normal planning laws, although he added that his department is currently rolling out a new “national planning policy context” that could make it easier for the broader scheme to get off the ground.

Separately, Rabbitte noted that the issue of Ireland’s growing electrical interconnectivity with Great Britain and continental Europe is becoming increasingly – and mistakenly – conflated with the wind export scheme.

Greater interconnectivity via subsea power cables “has happened, is happening and will happen, whether or not the contemplated export project gets off the ground”, he says.

“The days of the Island energy market are over.”

Ireland also today unveiled its Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan, a framework intended to help balance the country’s environmental, technical and economic imperatives as it embraces greater levels of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy.

The plan includes a feed-in tariff for wave and tidal energy of €260 ($353) per MWh for the first 30MW of capacity deployed.