Proposed curtailment policy threatens growth

IRELAND: Wind developers active in the Irish market were feeling reasonably positive at the end of last year, predicting more than 272MW in new installed capacity for 2012, more than one third above last year's growth. A more modest forecast of 200-250MW was put forward by the Irish Wind Energy Association.

Just a few weeks later the mood had shifted, thanks to a new policy on curtailment that would force developers to rethink projects in the pipeline. If introduced, this policy would see the output of some wind farms, located in areas where the electricity grid needs strengthening, earmarked for 100% curtailment during periods of high wind and low demand.

This would undermine the financial viability of these projects since, until now, the economic consequences of curtailment have been shared out on a pro-rata basis. Unsurprisingly, developers have been holding urgent talks with regulators on the implications of this policy.

Wind developers are also awaiting details on the Republic of Ireland's revised financial support system for renewables, known as Refit 2. It is already clear that incentives for new projects will be shaved somewhat, although no significant cuts are on the cards.

The Irish wind sector received a boost last year, after a credit-crunched 2010, with 203MW of new installed capacity, representing a 33% increase on 2010's dismal total of 153MW. The largest project to come online in 2011 was the 41.4MW Castledockrell wind farm, County Wexford. As of the end of last year, Ireland's total installed capacity stood at 1.63GW, less than half of the approximately 4GW needed to meet the country's 2020 renewables target of 40%.

There remains just one offshore wind farm in Republic of Ireland waters, the 25MW Arklow Bank I project. Several more offshore projects are planned, with an agreement signed last year by the Irish and UK governments that sets the stage for new Irish offshore wind farms being connected to the UK grid — contributing to that country's renewable-energy targets, not Ireland's.