The players in the field operate on grand and small scales
Published 09/09/2010 | 05:00
AT present, wind energy business is dominated by a mixture of energy giants and small operators who often include farmers and other local entrepreneurs who have clubbed together to develop a wind farm.
With names such as Clare Winds, Hibernian Windpower, West Clare Renewable Energy or Pallas Wind Farms, the small operators seek to build one farm knowing that each turbine will cost upwards of €1m each. Many later sell their projects to foreign funds investing in green energy or state-owned rivals.
Funding remains tough for anybody seeking a loan for a wind farm, although banks are getting better at assessing applications, and both Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank have a good record on this score, according to Michael Walsh at the Irish Wind Energy Association.
At the other end of the scale are the semi-state companies including ESB, Coillte, Bord na Mona and Bord Gais which are all competing against one another to produce wind energy -- a situation that will be closely examined by the special group led by economist Colm McCarthy.
Prof McCarthy fears the organisations are likely to find themselves competing against each other for market share in the years ahead and he is expected to recommend that just one or two companies concentrate on this sector while other companies could be forced to sell their assets into the private sector.
The last group investing heavily in Ireland's wind energy sector are foreign energy companies such as SSE Renewables, the Scottish company that owns Airtricity, Northern Ireland-based wind energy veteran B9 and Ion Equity-owned SWS.
Like wind farm operators elsewhere, all these investors currently depend on grants to survive.
Wind energy remains expensive; the European Union has estimated that the current cost for wind energy is 26c a kWh, which is much higher than the 15c a kWh for fossil fuel generated energy.
And a report by the Commission for Energy Regulation in Northern Ireland says that oil would have to reach $200 (€156) per barrel for wind energy to make significant savings.
The report goes on to say that wind power will need to be subsidised as long as oil is around $100 (€78) a barrel or less.