Optimistic in face of policy hiatus, with Ireland still to get to grips with liberalising its electricity sector and a general election in the offing there was little for the Irish Wind Energy Associa

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An optimistic Irish wind community was once again addressed by energy minister Emmet Stagg at its annual conference, this year held in County Galway on the west coast of the country, one of the areas most favourably placed for wind power. Attendance at the 1997 Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) conference was up compared with last year's event and participants were buoyed by the recent request for 90 MW of wind power under the government's third Alternative Energy Requirement (story page 21).

Stagg underlined his commitment to the wind sector in a speech critical of the country's current power mix. Referring to Ireland's dependency of around 66 % for primary energy on imported fossils fuels he said, "If we do nothing about increasing the proportion of native and renewable energy in our overall energy mix, then that external dependency could increase to 96% by the year 2010."

In a comment which seemed political in its intention in view of the forthcoming general election, Stagg expressed disappointment at the rate of wind development under the first Alternative Energy Requirement (AER I). From 73 MW of AER I wind contracts, it seems that only 40-45 MW will be developed. (AER II was taken up by one waste to energy project.) "This is a disappointing performance and it damages the credibility of both the sector and the renewable energy programme," he said. Stagg hoped that lessons had been learned on all sides and stated that no excuses would be accepted next time. Wind developers have been hampered by problems obtaining siting permits under Ireland's complex planning procedures.

Paul Dowling, IWEA chairman, pointed out that with electricity demand in Ireland now growing at around 6% a year and the Kinsale natural gas field coming towards the end of its life, major policy matters need to be settled. Ireland's electricity sector has yet to get to grips with how it will reshape under the European Union's electricity directive requiring market liberalisation and third party access to the grid. State utility, the Electricity Supply Board, is expected to vigorously defend its monopoly and the wind industry is wary of doing battle over grid connection costs until the expected appointment of an electricity regulator, as in Britain.

Green pool talk

Meanwhile there has been a deal of talk in Ireland about setting up a so-called "green pool" of renewable energy which would allow companies anxious to promote their eco-friendly image to source some or all of their energy requirements directly from non fossil fuel producers. IWEA supports the concept of such a pool, but with no decision on third party access the subject is only a matter of debate.

Dowling called attention to some further factors which need discussion, such as the future of long term power purchase agreements. Fixed term agreements are also on the agenda in a programme which the IWEA hopes will lead to 10% of Ireland's electricity coming from 800 MW of wind plants by the year 2010.

In a provocative paper which threw up many of the hot topics surrounding the development of wind energy in Ireland, Dan Hennevig of Sure Engineering spoke about the development by his company of a 15 MW wind farm of Vestas turbines at Barnesmore in County Donegal, undertaken in conjunction with Scottish Power. Being at the forefront of one of the early projects in Ireland, he reviewed the problems which were encountered during development. Securing land can be a problem in Ireland, where hill sites can be in common or even uncertain ownership -- and that was before the difficulties of dealing with planning authorities who were encountering wind farm applications for the first time. "It was akin to re-inventing the wheel," he said.

Much exaggerated

"Planning wind farms has national implications," he continued, querying whether this particular function should not be handled by a national body, such as the Department of Energy, instead of local authorities. His project received no local objections to the granting of planning permission, the only one coming from Dublin, more than 100 miles away.

Liam O'Donnell, power procurement manager at ESB, assured conference participants that, "Reports of my imminent demise are much exaggerated." He was referring to the major shakedown of ESB required under the EU's directive for third party access to the grid -- 23% by 1999, 28% in 2000, rising to 33% in 2003. He, too, expects to see a 5% growth in demand for electricity in Ireland over the next 10-15 years and he referred to the link between wind energy price and the consumer price index as very important.

A presentation which attracted considerable interest was made by Frank Conlan, European Projects Manager with Udar‡s na Gaeltachta, a government agency for the Gaelic speaking regions. Many of the best potential sites are situated in these areas, found mainly on the western coasts of Ireland. Although some applications for wind farms have been turned down in these areas, Conlan was mostly upbeat and stressed that local involvement was essential for public acceptability. He dropped a clear hint that decisions to move towards local manufacture could have a positive effect on increasing public awareness of the benefits of wind energy for the poorer western parts of the country.

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