Irish Wind Power Churns Storm of Controversy

The turbulent mixture of wind power and politics in Ireland has generated conflict between the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), with the Government of Ireland stuck somewhere in the middle.

Arigna, Ireland – August 11, 2003 [] IWEA, located in Arigna, Carrick-on-Shannon, County Roscommon, promotes the use of wind energy in Ireland. Its members are business people, environmentalists, academics and landowners, who believe that wind energy will soon become one of Ireland’s most significant sources of energy. IWEA Council consists of 21 members from a wide range of backgrounds. The Council is made up of elected and corporate members. The IWEA is entirely self-funding and relies on the support of its members, which number over 300. ESB is Ireland’s leading energy company and is 95 percent owned by the Government of Ireland, with the remaining shares held by an employee share option trust. In addition to generation, ESB is responsible for the management and operations of the electricity distribution network in the Republic of Ireland. It also owns the transmission system. ESB has worked to develop and supply energy from a variety of renewable sources including hydroelectric power stations and harnessing wind energy through wind farms. IWEA expressed concern that very few Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) backed projects have been built in Ireland. IWEA claims that existing systems are doing little to stimulate the private Irish Wind Industry and encourage competition. When Irish Parliament member, Dermot Ahern T.D., Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, recently announced the results of the Sixth Alternative Energy Requirement Competition (AER VI), IWEA responded by issuing a press release entitled “Government Kills the Irish Wind Industry.” As a result of AER VI, 330 MW of wind energy contracts were awarded, with the lion’s share, 271 MW, going to ESB and Saorgus Energy, a company that specializes in the development of large wind energy sites in Ireland and overseas, and has interests in several large projects throughout the country. IWEA cited that Saorgus Energy and ESB are joint developers in the Kish Consortium, which won 100 percent of the offshore contracts awarded. IWEA also pointed out that Hibernian Wind Power, a wholly owned subsidiary of ESB, is acquiring interests in Saorgus Energy. IWEA requested that the Minister deal with what they call “the continued monopoly” of ESB and provide room for the private wind energy developers to compete “on fair ground” and not against the state. IWEA wants offers of additional contracts of up to 500 MW onshore and at least 50 MW offshore. In addition, IWEA also wants to see a new renewable energy support plan in place before the end of the year. “We have asked the Minister not to destroy the independent Irish wind energy industry,” said Tim Cowhig, Chairman of the IWEA. “The development of this industry was not subsidized by the state. We do not want it destroyed by the state.” According to IWEA, AER competitions to date have seen only a small fraction of the wind turbines built. “Our objective is to build the maximum amount of wind farms in Ireland,” said Cowhig. “Over the past 10 years, private industry has spent in excess of €50 million (US$ 56.8 million) in securing planning consents in the country. This is a huge investment at a time when the ESB was dismissive, disinterested and obstructive in relation to granting grid access and allowing private developers to build projects. At a time when state monopolies are being broken up, the Minister is supporting the continued monopoly of ESB.” According to IWEA, additional contracts would ensure the possibility of the development of a substantial independent wind energy business in the country worth up to €2 billion (US$ 2.2 billion) over the next 5 years. IWEA says this industry will deliver employment and assist rural development. Cowhig added that the industry will not be “fobbed-off” by token gestures and that a clear action plan by the Minister is required to ensure that the independent developers in the country are given a fair chance to develop their projects. “IWEA believes that they have put forward a feasible proposition for allowing additional capacity to be offered to developers and believes that the Minister should respond to that quickly,” said Cowhig. ESB contends that they have been providing major support for the independent wind farms by purchasing the power in all of the Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) competitions under long-term contracts. ESB officials state that the long-term contracts enable the financing of independent wind farms. ESB says they have helped bring about the building of over 20 wind farms nationwide; and the vast majority of them are independently owned. ESB adds that their company is conscious of the Irish Government’s targets of generating 1,250 MW of green energy by 2010 and that ESB has been working to facilitate this by purchasing electricity on long term contracts under the AER programs, establishing a wind farm subsidiary (Hibernian Wind Power) that has a record of developing wind farms, and by providing active assistance and commercial and engineering expertise to the independent wind sector through another subsidiary (ESBI Engineering). ESB said that their subsidiary, Hibernian Wind Power (HWP), is run independently, funds its business projects in a commercial manner, and is not competing in the small wind farm sector. According to ESB, the majority of wind farms established in Ireland up to now are independently owned. HWP was only awarded one contract in the small-scale wind section and that contract is actually part of a different large-scale contract. The only other small contracts awarded were for landfill gas generation, ESB added. ESB said that a priority for the Government is to ensure that the projects, which get contracts, actually are developed. ESB also said Hibernian Wind Power has a good track record of delivery, citing that HWP plans to have 100MW of wind farms under construction by the end of this year.
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