Irish solar company BNRG breaks ground in US

Renewable energy firm starts work on 10 photovoltaic projects in state of Oregon

Irish solar company BNRG Renewables has begun construction of a portfolio of 10 solar photovoltaic projects totalling 35 Megawatts (MW) in the US state of Oregon.

It represents the delivery of the first batch of US projects the company has been developing since 2016.

The projects have secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with local utility Portland General Electric. The 35MW is the equivalent of providing the electricity demand of more than 11,500 homes, and saving some 18,600 tonnes of carbon, over 30 years.

Construction started in early June on the first three projects. All are expected to be completed by mid-2019. BNRG is financing the project through a $35 million facility and a longer-term sale and leaseback tax equity arrangement provided by SunTrust Bank.


BNRG director David Maguire said the US was an important strategic market and represented a major milestone for any European company.

"Together with our Maine portfolio, which is currently under development, we expect to complete construction of 150MW of projects in the US by mid-2020," he added.

BNRG completed the Laurel Hill project in Co Down in March, delivering 14MW of power in the last large-scale renewable project to benefit from the UK’s Renewable Obligation Certificate support scheme.

BNRG has a significant pipeline of 300MW of projects in the Republic in partnership with Paris-based independent power producer Neoen. "Progress has been rapid . . . with planning permission and grid connection agreements secured on six projects in the south and east of Ireland, " Mr Maguire said.

Competitive auctions

It expects policy support by way of competitive auctions under the Renewable Energy Support Scheme due to be announced by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten shortly.

Mr Maguire noted that BNRG had started developing projects in the US later than they started in Ireland, “yet they are already constructing their first US projects”. The company expects to commence construction on the first projects in the Republic next year.

Commenting on wind and solar projects that could be constructed and grid-connected by 2021, he said: “By this time next year, we estimate over 1,800MW of solar and over 400MW of wind will be ready to compete in an auction. If we run a good competitive auction, solar could deploy over 1,500MW before 2021. This would have the effect of meeting half the shortfall on our 2020 targets [for renewable electricity].

“This could save the exchequer over €200 million in annual fines or statistical transfers,” he said.

Planning guidelines

“Technology-specific will be important to deliver a diversity in the energy mix and true price discovery in the market. Technology-agnostic will either delivery wind only or wind at a higher price. I would hope the Minister will also give a clear signal to the market and set out the quantum of an annual auction from now until 2021, and 2022 to 2030.”

In the absence of planning guidelines, the Irish Solar Energy Association – of which he is chairman – has produced its own recommendations, and circulated them to stakeholders; local authorities, relevant government departments and An Bord Pleanála. It has also submitted its views to the Government on community ownership and community benefit in renewable projects, and how that could work.

BNRG recently opened an office in Singapore and moved into the Australian market where it has agreed commercial terms with a local company to develop a significant number of large-scale projects.

“The strategy of the company is to be active in a number of countries at the same time to mitigate against political or regulatory uncertainty and to ensure that you always have assets under development, construction and operation at any one moment in time.”

Founded in 2007, Dublin-based BNRG has developed, financed and constructed more than 115MW of ground-mounted and rooftop projects, valued at around about €220 million, in the UK, Bulgaria and Greece.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times