2,000 jobs to be created by Element Power in €8bn wind energy project
UP to 2,000 full-time jobs could be created over the next six years with the development of 40 new wind farms across the country.
International energy firm Element Power, which has a base in Co Cork, has struck a deal with UK electricity network National Grid to supply it with renewable energy.
And provided the organisation secures planning permission to secure sites for the wind farms and build an under-sea connector to Wales, the €8bn project could be up and running as early as 2017.
Element Power Ireland chief executive Tim Cowhig said the Greenwire project would allow the economy to use both renewable energy and the country's geographic location to its advantage to create a new export industry.
"Greenwire is the enabling project that will allow this to happen boosting our national trade and generating considerable employment and benefit to the Midlands region," said Mr Cowhig.
The company has identified potential sites for the farms in counties Meath, Westmeath, Kildare, Laois and Offaly.
Official planning applications are expected to be submitted by autumn 2013.
Element Power is the first company in Ireland to secure an energy grid connection to the UK. A further 1,000 jobs could be created in Britain as a result of the project.
As well as creating jobs in development and construction, the wind farms are expected to generate €1.2bn worth of energy exports a year for the Irish economy.
"In anticipation of getting UK grid connection, the company has been working in Ireland over the past two years identifying potential wind farm sites, speaking with local authorities, working with environmental consultants and reaching agreements with land-owners," said Mr Cowhig.
"This is an important step in enabling the project and helping us to meet our target of exporting renewable energy to the UK by 2018."
The project is likely to be fully operational by 2018 provided An Bord Pleanala grants planning permission.
Dwindling gas reserves in the North Sea has left the UK with a looming energy deficit. It needs 30,000 megawatts of new wind generation to meet its 15pc of all energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.
The deal struck between Element Power and National Grid could see the former supplying 3,000 megawatts.
Julian Leslie, head of electricity customer services at National Grid UK Transmission, said the organisation was delighted by the new contract.
"This agreement will break new ground by connecting wind generation in Ireland directly to the UK transmission system.
"We are looking forward to working together with Element Power as we move forward with this unique piece of infrastructure," said Mr Leslie.