Joined up policy apporach for Ireland -- Strategy group's proposals

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A strategically planned approach to deployment is the best way for Ireland to meet its national targets for wind energy. Three key elements should be integrated into the approach: market mechanisms, grid upgrading and spatial planning. This is the principal conclusion of the Renewable Energy Strategy Group set up to devise a policy for increasing wind energy penetration in Ireland.

The group recommends that planning considerations should identify suitable areas for wind farms, informed by the availability of the resource and the strength of the electricity networks. The locations should then determine the appropriate market mechanisms and grid infrastructure needed. The market mechanisms chosen should minimise the cost of achieving the target wind deployment.

Meanwhile, in the short term, the group recommends an early round of support under the existing Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) and that this should be followed by at least one further AER round.

Joe Jacob, minister of state at the Department of Public Enterprise, formed the group in November to develop strategies for renewable energy, starting first with a six month study of onshore wind. The government is aiming for a national target of 500 MW of renewables by 2005, most of it wind. The group is chaired by Professor John FitzGerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute. The wind industry's representative is Inge Buckley, Ireland agent for Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas.

Megawatts in the wings

The group criticises the stop-go nature of the AER tendering process but nonetheless calls for a fifth AER to promote projects with consent or already well advanced in the planning process to ensure early delivery of extra capacity. Currently, full planning permission has been granted to over 155 MW of wind farms -- not including those which already have AER contracts. An additional 160 MW of wind capacity is at various stages within the planning system, and an estimated 215 MW in advanced preparation for a planning application.

Prices of the 15 year contracts under AER V should be based on the previous AER III competition and the mechanism should be open for two years. The report also recommends removal of the caps on project size and on the number of projects contracted under the AER to any single developer to encourage efficient deployment of wind energy and to avoid too many separate grid connections. Small-scale projects of less than 2.5 MW should compete separately from larger projects to achieve a higher price for their contracts. These should be awarded for up to 40 MW of small-scale projects under AER V. One further round of competitive tendering -- AER VI -- should be held to give added certainty to projects in pre-planning and to avoid bottlenecks in planning and grid connections.

Investor confidence

In addition to the AER, the report suggests fall-back power purchase agreements of up to eight years for a limited capacity of wind generated electricity to raise investor confidence in schemes entering the liberalised electricity market.

For the medium term, the report calls for a review of market mechanisms in the context of Ireland's emerging Kyoto requirements, EU law and developments in the liberalised electricity market. Funds from the National Development Plan should be allocated to strategic investments in the electricity network to allow renewable energy projects to be connected to the grid, and studies should be undertaken to determine how much wind energy the grid can accommodate. Turning to spatial planning, the group recommends that local authorities be invited to identify areas for wind energy development in their local development plans.

Jacob says he will formulate firm proposals based on the report and bring them to government quickly. "All comments from interested parties will be taken into consideration prior to government sanction of final policy proposals," he adds.

The report was well-received by the wind industry. The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) particularly welcomed the proposal for a strategically planned approach. Nonetheless, in consultations with government it is pushing for three tiers of support: a large tier for projects of over 3 MW, below that a tier for projects of 100 kW to 3 MW and a third tier for projects of less than 100 kW allowing net metering, where owners of small plant could offset their grid purchases with home generated power. In addition, IWEA is asking for electricity to be released from the AER V process to electricity traders rather than automatically going to the national Electricity Supply Board as green power. It also calls for tax breaks for wind energy investments to be extended to individual investors, to encourage investment in funds for green project development.

Meitheal na Gaoithe, a wind producers co-operative, adds its voice to the call for net metering. This would help popularise support for wind energy in the wider community, it says. The co-op also wants to see the 40 MW cap on the smaller wind project band removed.

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