Only one more competitive tender

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The days of Ireland's current support mechanism -- the Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) -- are numbered, says Tom Kennington from the Department of Public Enterprise. Nonetheless, a final AER competition is to be squeezed in while the government consults over its replacement, Kennington revealed at last month's annual conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association.

Kennington hails AER 5 -- the latest round of support for renewable energy -- as a "huge success." Nonetheless, he says, Minister Joe Jacob is disappointed that the country's discussions with the EU competition commission have resulted in a continuation of the competitive AER process when he would have preferred to put in place a legislative model of fixed price payments for wind power.

Furthermore, the public service obligation (PSO) requiring the Electricity Supply Board to buy output from AER projects has also not gone as planned at the EU, resulting in delays in awarding AER 5 contracts to renewable generators, reports Kennington. Changes to the PSO were required by the competition commission and were included in Jacob's new Electricity Act. The AER order should be signed by June, says Kennington. "In the meantime, we are looking at any way of getting those contracts out." But if Ireland is to meet its target of 500 MW from renewables by 2005, a further round of the AER will need to be started this year, he says. AER 6 will capture wind projects totalling some 100 MW which already have planning consent in place. It will retain the same terms and conditions as AER 5 since it now has EU clearance under rules governing state aid to industry.

Looking beyond the AER, he says the government will be consulting the renewable energy industry on its future renewable energy policy. Ireland is reaching a stage of wind energy development where the windiest sites have either been exploited or are unable to gain planning approval. The government needs to consider how to motivate development of sites which might be less attractive from a wind point of view but more acceptable in terms of planning, he says. Secondly, the minister wants to move away from the stop-start nature of the AER competitive tender process.

The future policy for offshore wind must also be decided, says Kennington. "The very size of the resource requires a clear and viable plan to bring it on stream." The Irish Sustainable Energy Authority is to carry out research into support systems for offshore technology. It will look into supporting a demonstration project and then propose a longer term strategy to maximise the contribution of offshore wind, having regard to economic and technical constraints. "Ideally the minister would like to see a report that he could put to a new government very early on in its reign," said Kennington just before last month's Irish general election. An important point to remember, he stresses, is that state support for offshore wind will need European clearance if it is not to contravene EU state aid rules.

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