Friday 23 August 2019

Viridian in talks with planners for €150m biomass power generator

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John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Power firm Viridian, which owns Energia and Power NI, is plotting the construction of a biomass power plant in Dundalk, Co Louth, in a project that could cost more than €150m.

Viridian is already in talks with planning watchdog An Bord Pleanála regarding the proposed biomass power plant outside the town, which would generate enough electricity to power tens of thousands of homes.

Biomass plants produce energy by burning waste wood and other organic materials.

The company confirmed the proposal yesterday, but declined to give any more specific information on the project, or where precisely it might be located.

"We can confirm that Viridian is considering the development of a biomass energy plant in the Dundalk region," said a Viridian spokesman.

"Ultimately this will be dependent on suitable support from the government for the development of biomass facilities."

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is currently engaged in the design of a new renewable energy support scheme.

The window for public submissions regarding a new scheme closed two weeks ago.

But the Government has already said that supporting biomass energy production is expensive. "Supporting biomass is costly," the department said in September as it confirmed that economic analysis would underpin a new renewable energy support scheme.

"Therefore, it should be weighed whether meeting objectives other than cost-effectiveness provides commensurate benefits."

The eventual structure of the new renewable energy support scheme will be instrumental in whether or not Viridian proceeds with the Dundalk power plant. The proposed 35MW generating station would be the latest electricity producing asset in Ireland for the group.

Viridian already owns a total of 747MW of gas-fired generation capacity at its Huntstown facility in Co Dublin, as well as 225MW of onshore wind energy assets.

Its owned wind power assets include Ireland's largest windfarm, at Meenadreen in Co Donegal. It can generate up to 95MW of electricity. The windfarm was built at cost of about €145m and became operational earlier this year.

The company also operates about 1,000MW of windfarms in Ireland under long-term contracts.

Viridian is owned by US investment group I-Squared Capital. It bought the power firm last year for about €1bn from Bahrain's Arcapita.

Earlier this year, it was reported that I-Squared was considering a sale of a stake in Viridian.

I-Squared bought Viridian with the intention of using it as a vehicle for making further bolt-on acquisitions and growing it organically.

"The acquisition of Viridian is consistent with our strategy of investing in robust growth economies, such as Ireland," said Gautam Bhandari, a partner at I-Squared Capital last year.

At the end of 2016, Viridian's Energia unit provided electricity to 103,367 domestic sites in the country, making it the fifth-largest provider, with a 5pc market share.

The ESB's Electric Ireland unit was the largest, with a 51.3pc market share.

In the domestic gas market, Energia supplied gas to 38,206 sites at the end of last December, giving it a 5.8pc share of that market.

Energia entered the domestic electricity and gas markets in 2014, having previously only served the business market.

Irish Independent

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