Energy trading pact with Britain still 'inevitable'
Published 14/04/2014 | 02:30
AN energy trading pact between Ireland and Britain is "inevitable" despite the collapse of an €18bn wind-farm plan, the Government has insisted.
There was relief and disappointment after Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte confirmed that plans to build over 1,000 wind turbines across the midlands to supply the UK with power have been axed. This comes a month after the Irish Independent revealed on March 7 that the project would be shelved.
Mr Rabbitte said talks with the British government on a deal had failed, but added that greater trade in energy between Britain and Ireland would happen.
"I believe that in the context of a European internal market and greater integration, greater trade in energy between Britain and Ireland is inevitable in the post-2020 scenario," he said.
"Economic analysis conducted on the Irish side clearly indicates that under agreed policy and regulatory conditions, renewable energy trading can deliver significant economic benefits to Ireland and the UK, as well as being attractive to developers. However, this will not happen automatically. Renewable energy trading has to be designed to work."
He said the midlands deal was not "a realistic proposition" as the UK authorities had not made key decisions, and due to the "complexities involved", including economic, policy and regulatory issues.
News that the project – which it was estimated would create up to 30,000 jobs – has been scrapped comes as a major UN report reveals that boosting renewable energy production is crucial to halt global warning.
Thousands of turbines were set to be built across the midlands under The Midlands Energy Export Project by 2020, with experts saying the total investment could top €18bn.
It was due to deliver 5,000 megawatts of power to the British market.
The Green Party and wind developers warned that consumers would lose the opportunity of cheaper electricity, while the economy would suffer.
But locals in the midlands, worried about the noise and size and the effect on the value of their homes, were relieved.
Making the announcement, Mr Rabbitte said he regretted that it had not been possible to go ahead with project.
He said after discussions with the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Chance he believed it was not possible.
"I am confirmed in the view that given the economic, policy and regulatory complexities involved, and the key decisions yet to be taken by the UK, delivery by 2020 of a Midlands Wind Export Project is not now a realistic proposition," he said.
The Green Party argued that the pullout would hit consumers in the pocket as it would have lowered the cost of electricity and boosted the economy.
Leader Eamon Ryan said the country was abandoning renewable energy on the same day that a UN climate report said we needed a huge increase in wind and solar power.
"We need those clean power supplies to stop climate change, but also to create a more stable and efficient economy," he said.
He said the American, German and Chinese governments were racing to see who could deliver renewable energies fastest. In contrast, he said, the Irish political system was turning its back on the future despite having some of the best renewable resources in the world.
The National Offshore Wind Association of Ireland, representing offshore wind developers, said it was very concerned that the deal was off.
"It's very important to have the support of government when trying to develop an industry," said a spokesman.
"It is somewhat ironic in a week which has seen the first state visit from an Irish President to the UK, that the Irish Government has pulled back from a policy initiative which would have demonstrated the real benefits of partnership in both economies."
The Lakelands Windfarm Information Group, representing locals in Meath, Laois, Offaly and Kildare, gave the news a cautious welcome.
"Locals were worried about the noise mainly but also the size of these structures," said spokesman Andrew Duncan.
"I was looking at my eight-year-old son's geography book the other day and it said the biggest landmark in the country is the Spire, but that's already wrong.
"There are six of these turbines already in Mountlucas in Offaly and they are 140 metres. The Spire is 120 metres, and they were intending to build several thousand of these turbines up to 180 metres."
However, he said the fact that the rollout of a pylon project was going ahead, shows the government still intends wind farm penetration, possibly to mainland Europe. He said the pylons would not be necessary unless wind farms were being planned.
The firm Element Power, which is proposing the Greenwire wind energy project, said it was continuing to engage constructively with both the Irish and UK governments regarding its plans.
Mike O'Neill, CEO of Element Power Europe, explained: "Notwithstanding this, Element Power understands the complexities involved in reaching what will be a unique and historic agreement between two European nations to facilitate the trading of renewable energy".
He said there was rarely such a situation where both countries can derive so many benefits.
"Element Power can create thousands of jobs in the Irish midlands during both the initial construction phase and subsequently, the maintenance of approximately 40 wind farms spread across five counties," he said.