Clare plan paves way for €2bn energy investment


PROVISION FOR a €2 billion investment in renewable energy including a €900 million pumped-storage hydroelectricity plant is to be included in the Clare county development plan which will be published today.

County manager Tom Coughlan said they were hoping to lead by example in attracting private investment in renewable energy into the county.

He envisaged that Clare would be noted as a clean-tech county with the likes of the Shannon Free Zone, Shannon Airport and the county council offices being powered by renewable energy.

He said the county already had a reputation for pioneering new energy solutions, most notably Ardnacrusha in 1929 and the building of Moneypoint in 1987, and had the grid infrastructure already in place with a 400KV line to distribute the electricity throughout the country.

Clare County Council has already earmarked locations, principally along the coastal fringe, where investment in wind farms with a combined output of 550 megawatts of electricity can be located.

The amount of that investment, if realised, would be about €1 billion, given the capital costs of a megawatt of wind energy is between €1.8 and €2 million.

Mr Coughlan said it would make it easier for would-be private investors to get planning permission if they knew where wind turbines could be located.

“We’re not giving them a carte blanche and saying that we are guaranteeing that if you want to develop a wind farm in Co Clare, you will get it. What it means is that we are favourably disposed to wind farms in particular areas,” he explained.

The development plan includes provision for a pumped-storage hydroelectricity plant which supporters believe is the ideal solution to the problems of intermittent wind.

It uses the energy created when the wind is blowing to pump water to a higher elevation. When the wind has died down it releases the water, which drives a turbine to create electricity.

The facility allowed for in the county development plan is similar to one proposed by the Spirit of Ireland group. In the case of the council, it envisages using fresh water rather than sea water.

Clare County Council is separately carrying out a scoping exercise to find locations where this is possible, even though there are already advanced proposals to locate such a facility at 391 metre-high (1,283ft) Mount Callan.

Pat Gill, a member of the Spirit of Ireland group, said the concept of pumped-storage hydroelectricity had the potential to transform Ireland’s energy fortunes.

The declaration by the British government last week that it is interested in using Ireland’s onshore and offshore wind potential as a power source for its own economy has concentrated the minds of many working in renewables in Ireland.

Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin has called for the county’s wind potential to be measured by State agencies. Speaking in the Dáil last week, Ms Mulherin said wind was a resource that could have a huge impact on the west of Ireland, but it ought not to be up to private investors to measure it.

In response, Minister of State Kathleen Lynch said the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland had measured average wind speed on a county by county basis and had put a wind atlas on its website for individual locations.

She said Ireland’s accessible resource of 12,000 megawatts of onshore wind was more than twice what was needed for this country to meet its emissions targets by 2020.