Speed is of the essence

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Wind developers with contracts under Ireland's third Alternative Energy Requirement tender (AER 3) are to be allowed more time to complete their projects. Energy minister Joe Jacob said his department is demonstrating pragmatic support by "allowing extensions to the deadline within the legal constraints of the competition rules."

When contracts under AER 3 were awarded in April 1998, developers had to complete projects by the end of 1999. Only one out of 17 met the deadline. "As time passed and the deadline for completing projects drew closer, more applications were either rejected by local planning authorities, or subjected to third party appeals to An Bord Pleanola," said Jacob, referring to Ireland's planning appeals board.

"No one advised me that two years after I announced the results of the competition, that so many projects would still be in the planning process," he told delegates at last month's Irish wind conference. "It is not possible today to say how much capacity will eventually be delivered by AER 3." Nine of the 17 AER 3 projects were referred on third party appeals, said Jacob. Fionna O'Regan from the Renewable Energy Information Office at Bandon, County Cork, identified the appeals board as an obvious bottleneck. Planning applications for AER 3 projects have taken typically 13-15 months, she said. Four of the large wind projects have been granted final consent, said O'Regan. Four have been refused and two are ongoing. Small wind schemes were more successful, with one operational, five consented, two still in planning and one failure so far.

The next competitive tender to offer wind contracts, AER 5, will take account of recommendations for speeding up the process from the government appointed Renewable Energy Strategy Group -- as long as they "can be readily accommodated," said Jacob. Its first report on wind is expected in June.

Jacob also claimed that the new Commission for Electricity Regulation will speed up the earlier administrative stage of the AER process. The commission will be responsible for authorisations and licenses which will exclude the need for a qualitative assessment of applications. "Time saved therefore in recruiting experts for this task alone will reduce the delay in announcing winners in AER 5 by several months." He urged developers to prepare the groundwork now in preparation for AER 5. "Speed will be of the essence if the 500 MW is to be achieved and the future competition will reflect this priority."

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