Ireland to export wind power to UK
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte and Ed Davey, his opposite number in the British government, are due to sign the long-awaited memorandum of understanding that will pave the way for Irish wind farms to export directly to Britain.
The memorandum is the product of well over a year of talks between the two governments. Essentially, it will set out in broad terms an agreement that will allow Irish-based wind farms to hook directly into Britain’s national electricity grid, where they will be able to sell power.
A number of big ticket projects, geared specifically at taking advantage of such a deal, are already in the early stages of planning.
The industry generally has been arguing that a deal will provide the trigger for billions of euro in investment with the potential to create tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs.
The memo that will be formally signed today is really just the first stage.
The next requires a full intergovernmental agreement, and possibly some form of supporting legislation on both sides of the Irish Sea.
There are technical and planning issues to be sorted. One example is the fact that the process of getting a foreshore licence in the Republic can be long, and the guidelines are not clear.
All players will need this permit, as they will be laying their own cables across the Irish Sea to connect with the British grid.
Another will be the ownership of the networks. The private developers will be connecting their windfarms to Britain, effectively establishing their own networks, but only the State can own electricity networks, so they will have to transfer ownership on commercial terms.
This is going to involve two sets of civil servants in different countries more or less moving together, something that is never easy to do, as both groups will have different priorities at different times.
And it will also need continued political commitment in both jurisdictions. Equally, it is never easy to guarantee that two different politicians, in two different jurisdictions, will share the same priorities, and there’s always the risk that either the policy or the personalities will change.
Today will bring the necessary agreement a step closer, but a final deal is still a long way away.