Wind Energy - Why aren’t we taking advantage?
At the end of 2004, Ireland had 339 MW installed wind power, including
25 MW offshore at Arklow Bank. With a total Irish electricity capacity
approaching 6,000 MW for the same period, this means that wind is
supplying approximately 5.5 % of overall generating capacity.
Why Wind Energy in Ireland?
Ireland has one of the best wind energy resources in Europe, and
wind energy generated electricity is approaching cost competitiveness.
As one of the most fossil fuel dependent countries in Europe at
almost 90 %, and with continuing rises in fossil fuel prices, wind
power brings the following benefits:
||Security of fuel supply
||Stability of fuel cost
||The use of indigenous resources
||Improvement in the balance of payments
||Contribution to meeting our
Kyoto Protocol commitments -
which came into force on 16th February 2005
Government and EU Targets
The government has a target of 500 MW of renewable energy electricity
to be developed by 2005 - primarily to come from wind energy - with
increased targets to be set for 2010. The wind energy industry expects
that the 500 MW target can be met in 2005 or early 2006.
In the 2001 EU Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland has an indicative
target of 13.2 % renewable energy electricity by 2010. By that time,
it could mean that up to 1,000 MW of wind power will be required.
This capacity can be readily met from our onshore wind resource
alone. Offshore wind potential offers even greater opportunities.
The successful operation of the Arklow Bank Offshore Wind Park by
Airtricity and General Electric Wind Energy shows that offshore
development is achievable. Arklow Bank alone has permission for
200 turbines when fully complete.
In summary, Ireland’s wind energy industry is currently meeting
ambitious targets - but could successfully meet far more ambitious
targets in the future. The energy resource is certainly there and
the grid is likely to be able to accept significant quantities of
Current Wind Energy Challenges
Wind energy is currently being profitably developed in Ireland.
The continuation of this situation depends on the government’s choice
of policy in the near future with regard to wind energy.
|Wind energy in Ireland has been facing and overcoming
many hurdles, including, among others -
||power purchase agreements
Acquiring planning permission is generally difficult for any individual
project and can be costly at what is a high risk stage of the development
- but hard work on the part of the wind energy industry means that
planning permission has been acquired for around 1,200 MW wind energy.
The moratorium on the offering of grid connections to wind farms
has received considerable publicity. These difficulties are slowly
being overcome, with the establishment of a working group on grid
connection issues. The wind energy developers, wind turbine manufacturers,
ESB and various government departments have worked very hard on
these issues. While problems remain to be resolved, they are primarily
technical problems and, without wishing to underestimate the level
of work remaining to be done, the wind energy industry has some
confidence that these difficulties will be overcome. As such, the
first grid connection offers since the moratorium on issuing such
offers are expected in April 2005.
Currently, access to finance for wind farms is probably one of
the least problematic elements of wind farm development in Ireland.
Many of the banks and finance houses are becoming well familiar
with the industry and will typically offer finance once certain
elements are in place - including planning permission, grid connection
offer, approved turbine, operations and maintenance contract and
a power purchase agreement (PPA).
|One of the issues currently of concern to the
industry is the matter of PPAs. The means of selling wind-generated
electricity is crucial to the long-term success of the wind
energy industry. There are currently, in theory, a number of
means of acquiring a PPA -
||through government sponsored schemes such as the
Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) competition
||through private PPAs from companies such as Airtricity,
Bord Gais, Energia, ESB Independent Energy, and CH Power
|The difficulties are as follows:
||the AER scheme has been seen to have significant
flaws - having delivered little in terms of generation capacity
to date. It is to be replaced and is currently being reviewed;
||the independent electricity utilities are not
currently, on the whole, inviting supply from significant levels
of wind capacity, for various reasons.
|Thus, the industry is currently depending
on the government to provide a speedy replacement for AER.
The Way Forward
Many of the matters required for the successful development of the
wind energy industry in Ireland are in place - except for the awaited
government announcements on the form of provision of PPAs.
It is generally believed that there is a latent goodwill towards
wind energy development within the government - given its green
credentials, etc. - but that it is simply not taken seriously as
a significant potential supplier of cost-effective, dependable electricity.
It is also believed that at government level, there is - on the
whole - a lack of true, in-depth appreciation of the clear benefits
to be brought by wind energy, particularly in terms of security
of energy supply, and its decreasing cost.
Peter Bacon’s 2002 report on “Wind Energy - a New Industry for
Ireland” states that - “while some initiatives have been put in
place to support the development of electricity generation from
wind, they remain quite inadequate and continue to see the sector
as an alternative, in the sense that Ireland has a choice whether
or not to adopt these new forms of generation. This is not the case.”
For wind energy to become the significant participant it could
and should be in the energy market, requires active rather than
passive support from the government. It requires a full appreciation
of the long-term financial benefits of some short to intermediate
term support. This will require an interest and appreciation from
the Department of Finance as well as from the Department of Communication,
Marine, and Natural Resources.
The support and interest of Minister Dempsey and the Department
of Communication, Marine and Natural Resources is acknowledged and
appreciated - as well as that of other individual TDs. This interest
needs to be awakened throughout the broader government and translated,
soon, into a realistic form of PPA.