Ireland passes one gigawatt milestone -- Working to meet a 40% wind target

With well over 300 MW of wind plant under construction, 2009 is shaping up to be Ireland's best year for installation of new wind capacity yet. But despite several thousands of megawatts more in development, Michael Walsh from the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) warns that prospects for 2010/11 are looking less optimistic as the effect of the global credit crunch begins to bite. "We are seeing banks becoming much more conservative with their lending," he says. "Are the banks going to make capital available and at reasonable rates? Are we going to see projects get financial close in 2009 for delivery in 2010 to 2011? This could be a difficult year from the financing point of view."

Momentum in 2009 is spilling over from a busy 2008 in which Ireland installed 241.75 MW, taking the country past 1 GW of wind power capacity. The new build brings total installed wind capacity to 1053 MW, 14% of all generating capacity in Ireland. Some 70% of the new capacity is located in the windy south-west counties of Cork, Kerry and Limerick.

A new 40% target for electricity from renewables by 2020 -- up from the previous 33% goal -- was perhaps the most welcome of a number of policy developments during the year. The government set the new target after a study it commissioned found that subject to grid reinforcements, the island of Ireland could generate 42% of its power from renewables. Walsh calls the new goal "brilliant," adding: "It's something we have been calling for." Now the association hopes the Northern Ireland executive will follow suit and adopt an equally ambitious goal.

Transmission operator Eirgrid produced a strategy for doubling the size of its grid to accommodate 40% of renewables on the system as well as a 60% rise in electricity demand. "The strategy is great, but the key is now following that through and getting the next stage right," comments Walsh.

He points out that no major new transmission project has been completed within the past three years. Lack of public acceptance is impeding the construction of new lines, but IWEA has seen no evidence of new thinking to get round the problem. "We are looking for a sense of urgency," says Walsh. "Something has to give, otherwise we are predicating a whole energy policy on a grid that cannot be delivered."

Local company Airtricity extends its lead as the country's most prolific developer with 68.4 MW completed during the year. The company, which was acquired last year by British utility Scottish and Southern Energy, now boasts more than 30% of Ireland's total wind capacity.

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