Ireland approves massive boost for renewables

The Irish government has announced the approval of 363MW of new green energy generating plant, which, the government says, will significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions and provide electricity for the equivalent of 250,000 homes.

The approvals are the result of the fifth Alternative Energy Requirement (AER V) competition, and will result in the investment of more than €400 million in renewable energy. This is the largest round of approvals for renewable energies, and was substantially oversubscribed, said Minister for Public Enterprise Joe Jacob at the launch. The Department of Public Enterprise had intended to approve 255MW of power, but received applications totalling 367MW, nearly all of which was granted.

The previous four AERs produced a combined total of only 130MW. This far lower figure occurred as many projects that had been given approval by the government subsequently failed to gain planning permission. As a result, one of the prerequisite for AER V was that all applicant schemes should already have gained planning consent.

The final total was 318MW of large wind power, 35MW of small wind power, 8MW of biomass, and 0.9MW of hydropower. The successful applicants will receive support in the form of access to a power purchase contract with the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), under which the ESB purchases all the output of the plants at guaranteed prices for up to fifteen years. This generates sufficient confidence for investors to secure finance, says the Department of Public Enterprise.

“I am delighted to say that the overwhelming response to the competition and the competitive prices bid are evidence of the huge interest in renewable energy throughout Ireland,” said Jacob. “This illustrates how companies are determined to utilise the substantial resources of renewable energy, especially wind, available to us and of course the continuous improvement we are seeing in renewable energy technologies.”

The success of AER V puts Ireland on track to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction obligations and to meet targets set by the European Commission to have over 13% of electricity consumption derived from renewable sources by 2010, said Jacob.

“The Minister’s decision gives the green light to a range of country-wide renewable energy projects in wind, biomass and hydro,” said Paul Kellett, Technical Manager of the government-funded Irish Energy Centre’s Renewable Energy Information Office (REIO). “As planning was a precondition of the tender process I would hope that the majority of the projects will be successfully developed and this is potentially great news for the Irish economy. It is a timely boost for the development of Ireland’s vast renewable energy resources, which are some of the best in Europe.”

The new decision will improve Ireland’s present situation as one of the most energy dependent countries in Europe, says Kellett. “We currently have 21 operational wind farms feeding into the Irish grid,” he said. “The majority were developed on the strength of Power Purchase Agreements awarded through AER. Total installed capacity is 125 MW providing clean energy to over 80,000 homes.” The new announcement will make this year a watershed for Irish renewables, he added.

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