Électricité de France's (ÉDF) swoop for a stake in Codling Bank wind farm off the Co Wicklow coast was not unexpected. The deal makes the French power giant the latest in a series of big names to stake a claim to part of the Irish Sea.
The French government-controlled ÉDF’s focus here is on renewable energy. Interestingly, though, it has been promoting the virtues of nuclear power in Britain, where it owns eight such generators. The group’s publicity dubs the technology the “most affordable large-scale, low-carbon energy source available to the UK”.
That is accurate. Nuclear reactors emit far less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel electricity generators, although they produce more than renewable power such as wind.
In France, ÉDF manages 58 nuclear plants, which generate around 70 per cent of the electricity used there. The country's energy prices are amongst the lowest in Europe, and it exports enough power every year to keep this country going for 18 months.
Nevertheless, nuclear energy is controversial there. Critics question reactors’ safety while accusing the industry of failing to cover costs, including the expensive business of waste disposal.
None of this is to say that ÉDF intends building nuclear plants here. For one thing it is illegal. A clause in the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, inserted by the Green Party, bans the construction of nuclear plants in the Republic.
Irrespective of this, most consider the Irish market too small to sustain nuclear power, which is presumably why legislators in the 1990s humoured their Green colleagues by including the ban in the first place.
However, some of the electricity we import from Britain, via a power line running beneath the Irish Sea, is generated from nuclear power. It won’t stop there. We are likely to build further interconnectors with the UK, which will be using nuclear power for some time to come.
Meanwhile, national grid operator Eirgrid and its French equivalent RTÉ plan a line linking the Republic with Brittany, making it possible for us to import some of that cheap electricity that ÉDF generates from nuclear power.