Over the next 18 months, Oriel will conduct site investigations and the environmental impact assessment needed to obtain lease consent and a grid connection. It proposes to develop the project in phases of 49.5 MW each. The company claims the first phase could be complete by 2009 at a cost of EUR 85 million. The Clogherhead location will allow connection into the electricity network either in the Irish Republic or in Northern Ireland. This gives the company the choice of selling the power into two different electricity markets.
The Clogherhead site was formerly subject to a foreshore licence to wind energy developer Airtricity. That licence lapsed after four years, which allowed Oriel to exercise its option on the location. The 96 square kilometre site was originally identified as suitable for an offshore wind farm by Sure Engineering, a company owned by Dan and Chris Hannevig, who are investors and advisors to Oriel. Clogherhead is Oriel's first project. The company's managing director is founder investor Brian Britton, a private equity consultant based in Dundalk. His firm, Britton Consultants, recently completed a multi-million Euro fundraising for Oriel. "We have a team of private investors who are prepared to go a long way down the road with us on this project," he says.
Clogherhead offers an attractive location for a wind farm in the Irish Sea, says Britton. "The area has excellent wind resources, good seabed topsoil, shelter from high wave loads and insignificant tidal streams," he says. "Oriel believes that now is an opportune time to commence work on a new offshore wind farm in the light of recent positive changes in government policy and government predictions of a very large increase in offshore electricity generation from 2005 onwards."
It is not certain, however, that Britton's optimism for offshore wind in Ireland is shared by Irish government officials. Speaking at an Irish Wind Energy Association conference last month, Martin Finucane from the DCMNR stated that he did not expect to see any immediate support for offshore wind under Ireland's new fixed price tariff for renewable energy. "To meet our 2010 targets, there is no doubt that the predominant technology will be onshore wind. From an Irish perspective, it's 50% of the price of building offshore," he says. "I do see a role for offshore wind in the medium and long term but not before 2010."