The latest round of contracts follows a promise by then energy minister Dermot Ahern to award an additional 140 MW of contracts from the reserve list, subject to European Commission (EC) approval. They replace contracts awarded under a previous competitive tender, AER V, which the government recognised were not likely to proceed due to the unattractive terms of the competition. It allowed developers to re-bid their projects into AER VI. A large number of AER V developers took up the government's offer and surrendered their earlier contracts. The 17 month delay in awarding contracts was due to the EC dragging its feet over state aid clearance, according to the government. Its aim with the AER program is to generate 500 MW of electricity from renewables.
The latest batch of contracts were awarded to 11 large scale wind projects ranging from 7.65 MW up to 47.5 MW, and 17 small scale projects of up to 5 MW. Output will be sold to state electricity company ESB. All the projects already have building permits and in theory should be able to go-ahead. Many, however, are mired in a log jam waiting for grid connection. The December 2004 deadline for completion has been waived for projects in the jam.
The wind industry's reaction to the new contracts ranges from muted to downright disappointed. "The news was not terribly exciting," says DP Energy's Maureen De Pietro. "All this does is to tidy up the earlier mess. We knew it was going to happen," she adds. "Too little, too late," is the verdict of Irish wind farmers' cooperative Meitheal Na Gaoithe. "Small-scale community projects have been waiting for over a year for what is a very disappointing announcement," says MnaG's Tommy Cooke. Twenty-seven community scale wind projects were excluded, he says. "By favouring large scale corporate developers, the minister has further damaged local communities by undermining the prospect of a stake in their own renewable resources."