Seventy-two wind turbines totalling 50 MW came on-line, bringing Ireland's wind capacity to 118 MW, 2.5% of the country's total generating capacity. The nine new projects are all in the north and west of the country. They include Ireland's largest wind farm and the country's biggest wind turbine -- a 1.65 MW Vestas machine in County Kerry. Indeed, turbine manufacturer Vestas continues its domination of the Irish market supplying turbines to eight of the nine projects (table).
Five of the plant are supported under Ireland's competitive system of renewables support, the Alternative Energy Requirement (AER); three were built with European funds from the THERMIE program, and two were built entirely to serve the emerging market for green power. From February 2000, renewables suppliers only have been allowed to sell electricity directly to all Irish consumers.
Gineadoiri Gaoithe Teo's 2 MW extension to its existing Donegal wind farm was the first project built on the back of this partial electricity liberalisaton. Completed in April, its output is contracted to Eirtricity -- the country's leading green energy marketer. In the autumn, Eirtricity's own Culliagh wind farm came on-line adding 12 MW to the green power it sells to some 4000 business customers.
Eirtricity also has a further 43 MW of wind either under construction or slated for completion in 2001 for the liberalised market. It also appears to be the only company actively building wind plant in Ireland at present. Despite an estimated 170 MW of proposals with planning consent at the end of 2000, most developers are awaiting the fifth round of AER contracts before developing their projects.
Unlike the previous competitive AER rounds, AER 5 is expected to grant fixed price contracts to all projects with planning consent. This is intended to spur a huge increase in renewables development and represents the government's acknowledgement that competitive bidding failed to deliver new renewables. Out of 137 MW of wind contracts awarded under AER 3 -- the last round of support for wind-only -- just 34.5 MW has been developed. It is widely believed that the unrealistically low price of bids for AER 3 contracts, which begin as low as £0.0221/kWh (1998 prices), is the reason why projects have not been realised.