Bitterness over claims of deception

Seven of the contracts under Ireland's latest Alternative Energy Requirement -- amounting to 64 MW or nearly half the total -- are widely rumoured to be connected with a single group, property developer Treasury Holdings. This despite a cap of 30 MW on any one individual or company. Many fear that Treasury Holdings will not deliver on all its alleged contracts because its bid prices are too low to make projects viable.

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On the face of it, the list of contract winners under Ireland's latest Alternative Energy Requirement (AER III) shows a spread of developers. But seven of the contracts -- amounting to 64 MW or nearly half the total -- are widely rumoured to be connected with a single group, Dublin based property developer Treasury Holdings. This despite a cap of 30 MW on any one individual or company. Treasury Holdings strongly refutes these accusations.

The company's Dierdre Lamass maintains the group won only two contracts -- both under the name of its subsidiary, Treasury Estates Ltd. She denies the company has any involvement in other schemes. The two projects she admits to are 15 MW at Inchamore near Coolae and 4.8 MW at Gneeves -- both in Cork. In size these projects bear a close resemblance to the other five on the list which Treasury Holdings is accused of being connected with.

True or not, there is much bitterness in the Irish wind community surrounding the belief that Treasury Holdings is sitting on 64 MW of wind contracts. Four of the total of seven disputed projects are in the large wind farm band and three in the small. The claim is that Treasury Holdings avoided the 30 MW cap by bidding in projects under different names, of companies and of individual people. This violates the spirit of the AER, admits a government official, but it is not technically against the rules. Nonetheless, Britain's Energy Technology Support Unit, ETSU, which conducted the competition has been criticised for not weeding out some of Treasury Holdings' bids. "They were not familiar with the situation on the ground here in Ireland," explains one industry insider. Now many fear that Treasury Holdings will not deliver on all its contracts because its bid-prices are too low to make projects viable -- and because it bid projects for the same sites at two different price levels.

Treasury Holdings' involvement with wind energy began when it became an equity investor in a 4.8 MW wind farm of WindMaster turbines at Drumlough Hill, Donegal. According to Lamass, the company hopes to finance both its AER III wind farms in-house.

Double win

Of the total of nine contracts in the large project group, five remain outside the Treasury Holding controversy. Two of these have been won by EF Energy (Developments) Ltd of Cork and they are listed at the top and the bottom of the large project list (table). Since the list is assumed to be ranked in bid price order, it is likely that EF has the cheapest and most expensive projects in that category. The company's P J Healy claims he has used some innovative financing and that his past experience of the finance industry has stood him in good stead.

EF is no stranger to the competitive process having been involved in successful bids in AER I and the Northern Ireland Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation. Despite his success this time, Healy says wind should be valued for more than its ability to compete. "We still believe wind energy is a premium product, not a generic product." The company is applying for planning permission for both projects.

Several well-known players in Ireland's wind industry are noticeably absent from the list. These include Bord Na Mona, ScottishPower, the Electricity Supply Board and Futurewind. A few of the successful developers under AER I are present again, among them B9 Energy Services of Northern Ireland and Renewable Energy Systems (RES) of England, with one contract each. B9 and RES work together on development and construction in Ireland. Planning applications have been made for up to ten turbines at Milane Hill and up to six at Beenageeha.

Another AER I veteran is Maureen de Pietro from Colham Energy of Bristol, UK. She won two contracts -- at Barrboy in Cork and Carrane in Sligo -- and is awaiting planning decisions on both. Despite being an independent developer with no large company backing, she says financing is not a problem. With the tax breaks on offer, corporations are falling over themselves to invest in wind energy, she says.

Supplier selected

While most AER III developers are keeping their options open over their choice of wind turbine, two sites are already earmarked for Dutch WindMaster machines. The manufacturer's development arm gained two contracts, each for 4.8 MW in co-operation with Irish partners. Working alongside long standing wind industry insider Jimmy Kelly, WindMaster Developments has secured planning consent for eight turbines at Largan Hill, Roscommon. It expects to begin work on site this spring or summer, with completion before the end of the year. The company is also working with Joe O'Mahony on a planning application for a further eight turbines at Mullen Hill in Kerry. At both sites WindMaster is to use its VS 600 kW 46 turbine -- the machine it installed at Drumlough Hill.

Meanwhile, UK electricity generator PowerGen and local renewable energy company Saorgus Energy are waiting to hear the result of an appeal lodged by objectors against Kerry County Council's decision to grant consent for their project. They hope to build up to 23 turbines on a hill top plateau near Tralee. The appeal result is expected by mid May. Chris Morris from PowerGen appears confident of a favourable outcome. "We have got a really good site. We selected it on plannability as well as wind resource," he says.

Contract holders without EU grant aid do not appear to be deterred from taking their projects forward. All of those on the reserve list for grants expressed their determination to press ahead. PowerGen has only partial EU grant aid and Morris admits his project's viability is a lot tighter than those with a full grant. "However, I am expecting that some of the other projects are not going to sign their bond." He is far from the only developer to hold this view. Several of those without full grants expect that at least some of the projects will never see the light of day, freeing up grant aid for those further down the list.

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