Irish and British officials have been given three months to investigate if new rules can be found to clear the way for a multibillion-euro wind energy plan in the midlands, following London talks between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron.
The plans by Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd, Bord Na Mona and Element Power to harvest 10 gigawatts of Irish wind energy for sale to the UK and the Continent featured highly during yesterday’s talks in No 10 Downing Street.
“We asked officials at the highest level that they would now take three months to see if it is possible to put in place a different kind of economic structure and model that might make this become viable,” Mr Kenny said afterwards.
Last week, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said a deal with Britain was uncertain even though a memorandum of understanding was the centrepiece of a 2012 meeting between the Taoiseach and prime minister.
Mr Kenny said the original 2020 timetable was unlikely to be met, even if the officials made progress in coming talks. “Pat Rabbitte is correct in this, in the sense that it is probably not possible to do it in the timescale that was set out.”
There were issues beside price involved, he added. “It’s the whole structure of the model. The long-term pricing arrangement is obviously one that you have to factor in and there are differences in the sense of having to provide a connector to Britain. We have asked the officials – following the enthusiasm that was expressed on both sides – to see if it possible to reflect on this again,” Mr Kenny said.
The project, which is deeply unpopular in many parts of the midlands, will only work if most of the energy generated is exported – since the Irish electricity system could not become so dependent upon renewables.
In a statement last night, British energy secretary Ed Davey said the two sides would “continue to work closely on the possibility” of progressing a deal that would be a European cross-border first, delivering greater security of supply.
Opening the hour-long meeting, Mr Cameron said: “I think we meet at a time when Anglo- Irish relations are at an all-time high. I think relations between our countries are very, very strong, but I still think there is even more we can do to strengthen our ties and strengthen our relationship.
“Both our economies are returning to growth and strengthening. I think there is a real opportunity to grow from that.”
Meanwhile, the two leaders said that the first Irish-UK trade mission to Singapore and Malaysia in January – which has been deemed highly successful – will be followed by “two or three more”.
Excitement was “building here” about next month’s State visit to Britain by President Michael D Higgins – the first to be accorded such status, Mr Cameron said. “All arrangements are in place for that, we expect a high level of activity and participation from the Irish diaspora here.”
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny has asked for concessions for hauliers from the Republic travelling in parts of the North from a new road levy for to be introduced throughout the UK from early next month.
The levy, on HGVs over 12 tonnes, is designed to ensure all trucks contribute to the upkeep of the road network, not just British vehicles that must be covered by tax discs. “We asked that, in particular, there be an exemption for the A5 [from Derry to Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone] in which we have substantial monies put forward,” said Mr Kenny.