Wind farm off Wicklow coast opens


Seven wind turbines, each the height of Dublin's Millennium Spire, were officially unveiled 10km (six miles) off the coast of Co Wicklow yesterday and will supply enough electricity to cope with the power needs of about 16,000 homes.

The Arklow Bank Wind Park project, which is thought to have cost in the region of €45 million to date, was fully funded and operated by GE Energy and this is the first phase of what could turn out to be a project in excess of 100 such turbines. However, it is thought unlikely that GE Energy will continue with the project unless some State funding is made available.

At a reception in Arklow yesterday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern officially launched the off-shore wind park, the first of its kind in Irish coastal waters. He hinted that Government funding may be forthcoming for proposed phases there or for other future projects.

"GE has developed this project without recourse to State assistance, which is an exception to the global rule. If renewable energy technologies are to prosper, continuing support will be required. Future support will take the form of a fixed price support mechanism," he said.

The assembled guests were then taken out to the site of the wind farm to see the turbines "up close and personal", as Mark Little, vice-president of GE Energy said. The seven 3.6-megawatt wind turbines stand half a kilometre apart running in a north-south direction off the Co Wicklow coast. They stretch 124m into the sky and the diameter of the blades is greater than the length of a football pitch.

"It's a very exciting day. Wonderful," Mr Little told The Irish Times. "At the moment this park can provide 25 megawatts of electricity, but potentially it could some day give out 520 megawatts, which I would love to see," he said, adding that GE was doubling its research and development budget to $1.5 billion into cleaner sources of energy such as wind and solar power.

He said that the Bush administration was supporting the initiative through a federal system of tax credits.

Arklow Bank Wind Park was co-developed by Irish firm Airtricity and its chief executive Eddie O'Connor used the launch of phase one as an opportunity to extol the virtues of off-shore wind energy and also to lobby Mr Ahern for State funding to complete the project.

"This day marks the end of the beginning and the start of the real demonstration project," he said. "This is the future. You can't do fossil fuels anymore. They are far too polluting. Nuclear [ power] is far too expensive and would take far too long to get going. Now we have this ... The world is focused on this and here is Ireland sitting on a phenomenal resource."