French electricity giant Électricité de France (EDF) has acquired a 50 per cent interest in a wind farm off the coast of Co Wicklow from a company linked to property developer Johnny Ronan.
It is the first investment by the international energy player in the Republic.
While the utility company didn't disclose a price for the acquisition, the stake has previously been reported to be worth in excess of €100 million for the farm 13km off the Wicklow coast and to the east of the shallow sand bank known as Codling Bank.
Mattieu Hue, chief executive of EDF Renewables for the UK and Ireland, told The Irish Times that investment in the wind farm will amount to "about €2 billion".
Before it begins to invest, EDF and its partner in the project will have to partake in a State controlled auction which favours the lowest bids. After this process, which Mr Hue anticipates will take place in 2022, EDF expects construction to begin in 2023.
“A project of this size would take two to three years” to build, Mr Hue said.
Development on the Codling project first started in 2003 and it is anticipated that 220 turbines will eventually be erected across 14 rows. The capacity of the project is anticipated to be about 1 gigawatt (gw), enough to power more than 330,000 homes.
EDF's acquisition has been made through its subsidiary, EDF Renewables, which has a portfolio of offshore wind projects that exceeds 6 gw in operations under construction and in development in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, China and the US.
EDF's partner in the project is Fred Olsen Renewables, a subsidiary of listed Norwegian company Bonheur ASA – a company involved in renewable energy, shipping, offshore drilling and cruises. A second phase of planning has been submitted for a further 200 turbines.
Last year, The Irish Times reported that State utility ESB and German utility EON were in the mix to acquire the interest of Hazel Shore Limited in the project. Alongside Mr Ronan, other shareholders of Hazel Shore include members of his family, as well as his one-time partner in property development company Treasury Holdings, Richard Barrett.
Mr Hue said EDF is now keen to find further renewables projects in Ireland to add to its portfolio. “We will seek to increase on the offshore presence in Ireland. We’ll see what the opportunities are,” he said.
A spokesman for Hazel Shore said its shareholders “remain committed to continuing their renewable and forestry businesses”.
"Richard Barrett of Bartra Capital will focus on his non-Irish renewable projects; John Ronan and Conor Ronan will retain an equity-based interest in Codling alongside their other Irish holdings in the sector," the spokesman said.
Codling Bank Wind Park was first granted a foreshore lease in November 2005. The lease, covering an area of about 55sq km, is valid for 99 years.
Because the lease is now 15 years old, EDF plans to do further studies on the site and evaluate the permit on the basis that technology in this sector has vastly progressed since it was granted.