Lifting of grid restrictions set to spur growth -- Ireland's 85% increase

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In its best year for wind energy build to date, Ireland saw a hefty 85% increase in wind capacity in 2004. Some 162 MW was installed in 13 projects, bringing total capacity in the country to 352.685 MW. This record was achieved despite a year long moratorium on connections to the grid for new wind projects which dramatically reduced the number of wind farms coming on stream.

In the circumstances, the industry last year achieved as much as could be expected, says Paddy Teahon from the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA). Nearly all the new projects hold power purchase contracts awarded under the country's renewables support system, the Alternative Energy Requirement (AER). This obliges electricity company ESB to buy the electricity at prices decided by a competitive tendering system. The new capacity is owned by a mix of specialist wind energy developers and small independents who see wind as a sideline.

One of the more positive developments in 2004, according to Teahon, was the Renewable Energy Development Group, set up by government to look into renewable energy policy and a new market support mechanism to follow the now defunct AER. Its report is now being considered by minister in charge of energy, Noel Dempsey.

The group recommends two phases of future support for renewables: a short term measure to help the country meet its EU target of 13.2% of electricity from renewables by 2010, and a longer term mechanism to provide support beyond 2010. The aim of the short term measure would be to support projects that have not been successful in winning an AER contract. IWEA would like to see this transitional support take the form of fixed prices for electricity from renewables.

Teahon is optimistic that performance in 2005 will far exceed that of 2004 and could almost double current capacity. He warns, though, that success depends on the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) introducing its new approach to processing grid connection applications as soon as possible to clear the backlog of projects waiting for connection that built up during the moratorium.

Also needed, he adds, is the swift introduction by government of a market structure for the period to 2010. Around 1000 MW of wind projects have consent and only need grid connection or government support in order to proceed, says Teahon. "If the government were to announce a bridging mechanism now, many of these projects could begin construction this year and all could be operational by 2007," he says.

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