Why wind is not the answer to Ireland’s energy question

Opinion: Using biomass at Moneypoint would meet our greenhouse emissions targets in one fell swoop

‘Drax power station in the UK, formerly Europe’s largest-coal fired station, has already successfully converted capacity equivalent to the entire size of Moneypoint (above), and has secured long-term supplies of wood pellets under stable, fixed-price contracts.’

‘Drax power station in the UK, formerly Europe’s largest-coal fired station, has already successfully converted capacity equivalent to the entire size of Moneypoint (above), and has secured long-term supplies of wood pellets under stable, fixed-price contracts.’

 

When all the costs associated with renewable technologies in Ireland are included, one option comes to the fore. It is to change the fuel used by Ireland’s largest power station, Moneypoint, which burns imported coal and is the country’s largest CO2 emitter.

If it were to burn sustainable biomass (wood pellets), it would meet Ireland’s renewables target in one fell swoop, cut our greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, and there would be no need to spend €3.8 billion reinforcing the electricity transmission system.

Nor would we face the prospect of paying hundreds of millions of euro in EU fines for breaching the targets set.

Despite the fact that we would have to transport the pellets from the US, carbon emissions would be reduced by at least 80 per cent compared to burning coal at Moneypoint. These reductions are verified and audited according to EU standards that govern how “biomass” may be considered “renewable”.

Drax power station in the UK, formerly Europe’s largest coal-fired station, has already successfully converted capacity equivalent to the entire size of Moneypoint, and has secured long-term supplies of wood pellets under stable, fixed-price contracts.

Half-cost

Ireland’s “energy question”, as set out by Ken Matthews of the Irish Wind Energy Association recently, is to “deliver a secure supply of energy to meet growing needs and drive economic prosperity, while at the same time reducing CO2 emissions to limit the impact of climate change”.

His organisation, and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, claim, but do not prove, that “wind is the answer”. They proclaim that doubling wind investment to allow Ireland to meet its EU 2020 targets would be achieved at no extra cost to consumers, and wholesale electricity prices in Ireland would be lower. Hard evidence and the realities of power systems engineering suggest they are likely to be wrong.

Neither body has any idea what future energy prices will be. If wind power is so cheap, why does it need special treatment, in the form of the guaranteed feed-in tariffs, and why are Ireland’s household power prices today 20 per cent higher than the European average?

If it is so “green” why have Ireland’s CO2 emissions per kWh from power generation actually increased since 2009, despite wind generation increasing by 45 per cent? And why does the Department of Energy and Natural Resources continue to try to persuade the public to believe the opposite?

Above-average prices

The energy establishment in Ireland appears not to recognise that wind is a challenging, variable form of power. Not only is it necessary to build lots of new transmission lines across the country (Grid25), potentially damaging Ireland’s bloodstock, agriculture and tourism industries, but other power stations have to change their operations in order to absorb the wind.

The transmission reinforcement costs have been estimated at €3.8 billion, and the system costs will be substantial, adding a hidden 40 per cent to the real of cost wind power, as identified by the Irish Academy of Engineering.

Embracing new technologies by converting Moneypoint to sustainable biomass can provide a diverse, secure supply of clean energy at affordable prices, and not damage Ireland’s heartland agriculture, bloodstock and tourism industries.

We need to think more widely and not blindly pursue an outdated and unnecessarily expensive commitment to even more wind. Putting all the Irish energy eggs into the wind basket is foolhardy in the extreme.

Dr Anthony White is co-founder of BW Energy, low-carbon and power-market specialist, and adviser to ReThink Pylons

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