Minister Pat Rabbitte’s address to the Midlands Wind Energy Opportunities Workshop in Tullamore laid down a number of positive benchmarks for infrastructure-scaled renewables projects in Ireland. He noted that work between the Irish and UK governments on the potential for exporting renewably produced electricity in Ireland was proceeding apace. He made it clear that the this opportunity is firmly based on the UK’s need to achieve the 2020 EU directive to achieve over 35GW of renewably generated electricity (31 GW of wind) by that year.
Minister Rabbitte’s firm reiteration of his decision that large scale inter-connectors through which electricity generated in Ireland would be sold to the UK would not be State financed, but would be financed through private investment channels indicates the kind of certainty and consistency that the sector requires and is to be welcomed. The fact that Element and Mainstream have created enough confidence in international investors illustrates the viability of large infrastructural scale EU Regional renewable energy projects.
We noted that in the question and answer session following his address to the workshop, the Minister stated that the competitive environment in which Element and Mainstream were promoting rival wind farm clusters and international connector schemes was positive for the sector. However, his remarks that there are more than just these two large scale projects competing for his support and the support of the market could be seen as a possible reference to the Spirit of Ireland project.
This project is similarly scaled and has energy exports as well as national grid balancing potential. Unlike the Midlands schemes however, there are stronger guarantees of viability for the Spirit of Ireland Project: the Irish grid needs to balance intermittent wind, critical power demands and large scale energy storage. There is both national grid demand opportunity and interconnection export potential in the Spirit of Ireland scheme.
According to ECI spokesperson Cormac Walsh, “we should not put all our eggs in the basket of inter-connector projects which just at the moment the UK says it needs to meet its 2020 commitments. Who knows what other strategies they could devise in the future to meet that commitment. Using large scale hydro-storage can enable the wind sector to keep growing in Ireland. It can balance the grid domestically and, in the future, open up lucrative electricity export opportunities – regardless of the UK’s 2020 targets.”
Wind farm developments proposed for the Midlands are indeed still very viable, those of the Semi-States and those of the private sector, however, they may be better built on the foundation of knowable market conditions both Nationally and Internationally than on a gamble that the UK will not discover alternative means of meeting its 2020 targets.