Reaping the rewards of wind power
The plan is to upgrade the present turbines and add more over time.
The Aran Islands has high wind speeds, but it is also an ideal test bed for wind and wave technology.
“We’re hoping to attract technologies that are quite near completion,” says Walsh. “Those companies will develop projects in conjunction with the Aran co-op and licence these projects throughout the world.
“You’re ending up with more employment and more possibilities on the island. You’re securing it all with cheap renewable energy,” he says.
The conditions are very similar to those found in the North Sea, so it is envisaged that UK, Norwegian and Danish renewable energy projects will be encouraged to set up on the islands.
The backers of the new co-op hope that if the island becomes self-sufficient in energy and can generate a cheaper price for itself, it can provide a commercial advantage for energy-hungry companies to come and set up there.
The new energy co-op will be open to membership from those who are normally resident on any of the Aran Islands. It will also be possible for groups, organisations, and corporate bodies to buy membership shares in the co-op provided they are based on one of the three islands.
The new co-op aims to secure the future energy needs of the Aran Islands by gaining a controlling interest in the local sources of alternative energy production.
It also seeks to reduce and gradually remove the dependency of the Aran Islands communities on fossil fuels by replacing them with alternative and more sustainable sources of energy.
The new co-op aims to achieve this by providing low-cost energy to industry so as to create employment on the islands and by facilitating and at least part-owning initiatives and projects in research and development into sustainable energy.
For instance, an energy-dependent food company, which uses electricity to heat its greenhouses, might find that working on the Aran Islands will save it money in the long term.
Opportunities to provide education and training to both residents and non-residents in sustainable living are also envisaged.
As part of the experimental nature of the co-operative partnership, a Living Energy Technology Laboratory will be set up.
Pat Gill, one of the engineers behind the Spirit of Ireland project, describes it as a “positive ground-upwards response to the Government’s stated energy and economic policy statements and as such we expect that state and governmental agencies will do all in their power to assist us in our efforts to bring the smart economy into reality for ordinary citizens”.
The chairman of the Aran Islands co-op Dara Ó Maoildhia said the project had the “enthusiastic support of the islanders”.
The plan to make the Aran Islands a laboratory for sustainable energy comes as a sequel to a pilot project funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.