Sunday 18 August 2019

Acting Coillte boss 'certainly' interested in job as full-time CEO

Forestry hunt: Coillte has begun the search to replace outgoing CEO Fergal Leamy and hopes to conclude the process by the end of the year
Forestry hunt: Coillte has begun the search to replace outgoing CEO Fergal Leamy and hopes to conclude the process by the end of the year
Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

Coillte acting CEO Gerry Britchfield has said he is "certainly" interested in taking on the role full-time.

Mr Britchfield, who is also chief operations officer and chief financial officer of the semi-state, said: "I think I am very well qualified to do the job, but ultimately it's the board's decision."

The process to replace outgoing CEO Fergal Leamy, has started, and Coillte chairwoman Bernie Gray said she hoped it would be concluded in the latter half of this year.

"Our focus is to maintain a smooth transition," Ms Gray said. "There are other changes at the board level as well, which we are in the process of seeking to address.

"The chair has left and one of our most experienced directors, her term finished on Tuesday. We currently have a appointment process to fill those positions."

Meanwhile, Coillte said it has "very exciting plans" for the renewable energy space.

The group, which is Ireland's largest commercial forestry company, is looking at developing one gigawatt of renewable energy, primarily through onshore wind between now and 2030.

The development, which has the potential to power between 700,000 - 800,000 homes, would require investment of around €1bn between now and 2030.

Coillte is in talks on a joint venture with ESB to develop the wind farms, with a hope that negotiations can be concluded by the end of this month or June.

Both companies would take an equal share in the entity. While the initial focus is to set up the joint venture, Coillte said it would be looking down the line to see how best to "structure an exit".

The body, which last year sold the majority of its interests in operating wind farms for a total consideration of €127m, is going back into the space with ESB because it doesn't want to be a utility player. "Our expertise is in developing wind assets on our land.

"The idea is to build those projects and deliver them and then to recycle that capital. We don't want to be a long-term holder of wind farms," the group said.

Last year Coillte delivered record earnings of €115m, up 35pc on the previous year, driven by the return on the sale of wind farms.

Operating profit jumped 47pc to €71.5m in 2018.

Meanwhile, the body generated record revenue of €330m, a 10pc increase year-on-year.

Ms Gray, said: "This strong performance by Coillte is the culmination of a transformation which has been taking place in the business over the last number of years."

On the subject of Brexit, Coillte said a hard Brexit on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms would have very serious implications for its business, both through the imposition of non-tariff barriers to trade, particularly customs checks, and tariffs on panel products.

The body has taken out a warehouse space in the UK to allow it increase stock in the UK should there be a hard Brexit.

"We think if there are turbulent times ahead they will be temporary, because ultimately the UK has to import timber products," Mr Britchfield said.

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