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Ireland's big push, serious market prospects

Ireland saw a slow-down in the rate of wind energy development in 1998, with the last projects with contracts under the country's first Alternative Energy Requirement competition (AER I) getting built. Two wind farms totalling 10 MW came on line, bringing wind capacity in Ireland to over 60 MW, generating around 1.5% of the country's total demand.

Both wind farms, each of 5 MW, are in Donegal. Indeed, five of Ireland's nine wind farms are located in this windy northernmost county. UK company Western Windpower built ten Enercon turbines at Crockahenny, while North Wind Energy Systems opted for eight WindMaster turbines at Drumlough Hill. During the year work also began on installing four Vestas 660 kW turbines in Connemara, Galway, built with support from the EU Thermie program. The 2.64 MW project is a collaboration between Galway based Fuinneamh Gaoithe Teoranta, Danish wind turbine maker Vestas and Belgian consultancy Euroscan.

But more exciting than these pockets of ongoing activity are the considerable prospects for wind in Ireland. Last year saw the award of 137 MW of new contracts to 17 wind projects in AER III at a range of prices starting at levels competitive with gas generation. Timescales are tight: projects have to be completed by the end of 1999. So far planning consents are in place for a combined total of 20 MW.

Special protection

Even more remarkable is a further 60 MW of consented wind energy capacity awaiting market access. Under a new bill going through parliament, all electricity customers will be able to buy renewable generated power direct from the supplier of their choice. Choice of supplier in the broad market is limited to renewables only for the time being; choice of conventional forms of generation will only be available initially to customers using over 4 GWh annually. This gives renewable energy a head start in Ireland's electricity market, which opens to competition from February 2000.

The bill also sets up a commission for electricity regulation to oversee competition in the market and will part implement the EU Electricity Directive on competition. The commission will issue suppliers with licenses to sell direct to eligible customers and grant authorisations for building new generating stations -- including wind plant.

New support system

Nineteen-ninety-eight also saw the fourth AER competition, dedicated solely to combined heat and power (CHP) projects and worth some 50 MW of contracts. Joe Jacob, Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, noted that this was the last AER competition, at least for the moment. A Green Paper (policy draft) on sustainable energy is imminent. This is the result of a year long consultation and could lead to the AER being replaced by a different system of renewable energy support. What is not in doubt is that encouragement of renewables will form a major plank of the government's energy policy. Renewable energy -- and wind especially -- is seen as a valuable tool in helping the country stabilise its greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, with Irish electricity demand currently rising by some 5% annually, meeting these commitments looks set to be a stiff challenge. This is despite Ireland being allowed a 13% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2010 under its share of the European "bubble" of reductions to meet the Kyoto agreement. Already, the country is nearing its growth limit for greenhouse gases and at present rates of increase will have exceeded the 13% before the end of this year, says Gerry Duggan of ESB International, the overseas division of the Electricity Supply Board. He points out that this rate of increase is due entirely to faster than predicted economic growth.

Concerns about spiralling greenhouse emissions render encouragement of renewables even more imperative. When Jacob's Green Paper finally appears, the industry confidently expects to see the government's 10% target for electricity from renewables by 2000 revised upwards. With Ireland blessed by one of the best onshore and offshore wind energy resources in Europe, wind is the renewable technology best placed to make a substantial contribution to the country's battle to control CO2 emissions.

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