Race against the contract clock

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Wind farm developers in Ireland are racing against time to complete projects under the country's first round of government support for wind energy. Under the terms of the 15 year power purchase contracts granted in the first Alternative Energy Requirement -- AER I -- schemes must be operational by the end of 1997. Yet it is understood that for a number of companies the deadline is being extended into the new year due to project delays.

Ten schemes won 70 MW worth of AER contracts in March 1995. Of these, only one is operational. This is Scottish Power's 15 MW plant at Barnesmore in County Donegal. A further six projects totalling 31 MW are under construction. Of the remaining three AER I schemes, two failed to gain planning permits and one depends on the result of a planning appeal.

At present, Ireland has just three operational wind farms giving a total output of around 24.5 MW. For a long time, Bellacorick, in County Mayo was the sole wind project. The 21 Nordtank turbines, with a combined output of 6.45 MW, have been generating since 1993, and are owned mostly by peat producer Bord Na Mona with a minority holding by Danish utility Elsam.

In May this year, however, Barnesmore expanded the country's wind capacity by another 15 MW. The project was publicly opened last month by Ireland's new energy minister, Joe Jacob, who affirmed the government's commitment to seeing wind energy become "a significant and competitive contributor to the future energy and electricity needs of Ireland." Like in England, the issue of public perception has become crucially important, noted Jacob, who said the best way to overcome doubts was to visit a wind farm. "I was awe-struck É at the sheer scale and indeed serene beauty of this wind farm. The opportunity to stand on-site is the real learning experience, " he said at the opening. The £13 million wind farm, opened to coincide with Ireland's energy awareness week, comprises 25 Vestas 600 kW turbines.

Hot on the heels of the construction of Barnesmore came Cronalaght wind farm, commissioned just one month later in the wind swept north west of Donegal near Gweedore. This 3 MW project was developed with EU support through the Thermie energy programme and is run by Gineadoiri Gaoithe Teoranta, a family firm run by John Gillespie with his brother, Owen. The family owns the wind farm in partnership with Scan Marketing -- a Danish based company which has a minority share. The five Vestas turbines are built in an area with high average wind speeds of over 10 m/s and use shorter 39 metre blades instead of the usual 42 metre blades for this model. According to Owen Gillespie, Gineadoiri Gaoithe Teoranta plans to extend the wind farm by a further three turbines and is in the process of seeking planning consent.

Outside the AER

Under construction in the Kilronan mountains in Roscommon is another Thermie funded project. It is to consist of ten Vestas 500 kW turbines near Arigna which are expected to be up by December. They have been developed by Kilronan Windfarm Ltd -- a joint venture between a group of local investors, led by South Western Services. This is a co-operative company set up 30 years ago to provide services to farmers. Since then, according to South Western's Tim Cowhig, its range of rural services has been enlarged to encompass activities as diverse as accountancy practice, holiday homes and animal registration. Although both Cronalaght and Kilronan were developed outside the AER, they will be eligible for the same price of IR£0.04/kWh as AER I projects.

Kilronan is being built in parallel with two nearby AER I schemes just over the county border in Leitrim: eight Vestas 600 kW turbines at Tullymurray, being developed by Maureen de Pietro of Colham Energy of Bristol, UK, and two Vestas 600 kW machines, which are being installed at Arigna by a partnership of Gaoithe Saor Teo and AWC. Work began on all three sites in August and is being co-ordinated by Gaoithe Saor, says the company's Sheila Layden.

Meanwhile, Colham Energy expects to learn soon whether it will be given the all clear to proceed with its 4.8 MW wind farm at Carrowmore Point in County Clare. De Pietro hopes the company will hear the result of its planning appeal before the end of this month. She says the project ran into some local opposition that bears the hallmarks -- well known in Britain's wind community -- of anti-wind farm group Country Guardian.

British developer Renewable Energy Systems (RES), in conjunction with B9 Energy from Northern Ireland, is building a 15 MW wind farm of Micon 600 kW turbines at Cark in Donegal. RES won two AER I contracts, each for 7.5 MW. But instead of building a separate wind farm at Tullytresna -- where the local authority had refused planning consent -- it opted to enlarge its original plans at nearby Cark. The site will be jointly owned by RES and B9. According to B9's Mike Harper, most of the turbines are in place and are expected on line by the end of the year.

Also in Donegal, construction began in August of North Wind Energy Systems 4.8 MW wind farm at Drumlough Hill on the Inishowen peninsula -- the most northerly point of Ireland. The company is owned by Reiner Eschwey, a Dublin-based German national. Dutch wind turbine maker WindMaster has the turnkey contract to install eight of its 600 kW WM VS45 turbines. These turbines are based on the Austrian designed Floda wind turbine technology that WindMaster bought last year from British manufacturer Markham. They are expected to be operational early in the new year.

German technology

Finally, on the other side of the Inishowen peninsula, work begins this month on Western Windpower's 5 MW wind farm at Crockahenny. This is located near Buncrana. The ten Enercon E40 units from Germany are being installed in a joint venture with the Irish national utility, the Electricity Supply Board. The project has apparently had a long haul through the planning process. According to Western Windpower, its application was handled by a succession of four different planning officers before it finally gained consent in August.

Many of the companies building AER I schemes are also busily preparing bids for contracts under Ireland's third round of renewables support. Scottish Power, RES, B9, North Wind Energy Systems and Gaoithe Saor, as well as American Zond and Bord Na Mona are competing for 90 MW of wind contracts on offer. Results of the competition are expected at the end of January 1998. Unlike the first round, contracts awarded under AER III will be struck at the bid price. Moreover, developers will have to deliver on their projects by the end of 1999. This does not leave a large margin for development and has led to many starting work early on securing planning consent. "Leaving aside the construction and financing issues, you could have a particular planning problem, which you need to renegotiate with the local authority. It all adds time," says Mike Harper from B9.

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