Ireland to get geothermal power plant

One of Ireland's biggest utility companies, GT Energy, has announced plans to build the country's first geothermal electricity plant.

GT Energy claim it’s the first organisation in Ireland to successfully complete ‘comprehensive exploration’ of native geothermal opportunities, and that a harvestable site in Newcastle, south County Dublin, has been identified.

A planning application to build a power plant at the site has now been lodged with authorities. If the plans are approved, GT Energy say the plant would generate up to four megawatts of electricity; capable of powering up to 8,000 three-bed homes.

The plant would feed straight into the national grid and – owing to the unique properties of geothermal energy, which is unaffected by seasons or weather conditions – would be able to deliver base load electricity as geothermal energy is, ostensibly, always “switched on”.

Managing director of GT Energy, Padraig Hanly, said: “This plant represents a historic milestone both for Ireland and for our company, as it will be the first facility of its kind in Ireland and will bring on stream a new renewable energy source, which can contribute significantly to Ireland’s Renewable Action Plan and energy targets.”

Mr Hanly commented that if successfuly, the Newcastle site would be the first of many, adding: “Our vision is to develop a significant number of geothermal energy projects in towns and cities across Ireland in the future, which would not only have considerable environmental benefits for Ireland but also create a significant new industry in the country.

“Geothermal energy could also provide both electricity and heat to large commercial energy users such a universities, public buildings and industrial complexes and our ambition is to make it an essential component of Ireland’s renewable energy mix.”

Geothermal energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source generated from the heat in the earth’s core. It is harnessed by extracting hot water and/or steam through deep underground boreholes and using it to generate heat and electricity.

Whether or not GT Energy’s planning application is sound enough remains to be seen, but the timing of their announcement means it is likely to garner much interest from the government. Just two weeks ago, Ireland’s minister for natural resources, Conor Lenihan, confirmed the government is drafting a Geothermal Energy Development Bill, to enable further exploration and development of deep geothermal energy resources.

Commenting on the announcement, the minister said he believed geothermal energy could develop into a thriving industry for Ireland, adding: “I, and the government, are fully committed to facilitating the dynamic progression of this exciting technology in the future.”

According to GT Energy’s schedule, the Newcastle plant will be operational and connected to the national grid in late 2012.

Sam Plester

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