Answer to exporting power has been blowing in the wind

Tue, May 29, 2012, 01:00

THE IDEA that harnessing wind energy could allow the Republic to generate enough electricity to export power to Britain has been around for some time.

Previous ministers such as Eamon Ryan and Noel Dempsey have talked about it. But Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte could make it a reality.

Not surprisingly, lobby groups such as the Irish Wind Energy Association and National Offshore Wind Ireland say it will deliver big benefits in terms of investment and job creation.

At this stage the benefits are hard to predict. Mr Rabbitte yesterday suggested that Ireland could end up selling 6,000-7,000 megawatts a year to Britain.

The association said if that were achieved between now and 2025, it would result in an investment of €1.7 million-€2.7 million for each megawatt, a total over 13 years of €10 billion-€19 billion.

That would depend on building enough wind farms to deliver that amount of electricity, which in turn would require up to 3,000 wind turbines.

If it does happen, much of the development is likely to take place offshore, with the turbines built in Irish waters and connected directly to the British electricity grid. The question is whether the industry will invest in such projects. Given the reactions of the lobby groups, the answer is yes.

That could be a qualified yes. Most countries provide some support or subsidy to renewable energy. However, Mr Rabbitte is not going to extend the price supports available for onshore wind to offshore operators. (The existing subsidy will cost Irish consumers €32 million this year).

One of the issues the two governments have to sort out is whether Irish operators selling power to Britain could benefit from their subsidies.

If this were the case, then it is very likely that investors would step up. If not, then they may not be so willing to spend their money.