Windfarm holds jobs promise for Offaly

National Grid UK, the operator of the UK electricity network, has confirmed that a firm grid connection of 3,000 megawatts has been awarded to global renewable energy developer, Element Power and this holds the prospect of a major jobs boost for Offaly and the Midlands region.

National Grid UK, the operator of the UK electricity network, has confirmed that a firm grid connection of 3,000 megawatts has been awarded to global renewable energy developer, Element Power and this holds the prospect of a major jobs boost for Offaly and the Midlands region.

This is the first such dedicated UK connection offered to an Irish renewable energy exporter and enables Element Power to progress ‘Greenwire’ – a series of connected projects exporting wind power generated in the Midlands of Ireland to the UK via two independent subsea cables. ‘Firm’ connection means that the UK power market can take the output at all times, enabling €1.2billion worth of energy exports annually from the Irish economy.

Greenwire will involve a total spend of €8billion during the construction phase, of which a significant proportion will be spent in developing wind energy infrastructure in Ireland. It will result in the creation of an estimated 10,000 development and construction jobs and up to 3,000 long term jobs. A legacy interconnector between the two countries will also provide an enduring benefit.

Greenwire will deliver considerable direct benefits to the Midlands region as well as the national economy. Rental payments to local landowners combined with annual rates to the local authorities across the Midlands will amount to €50million each year.

Greenwire’ proposes the development of around forty separate wind farms across the Midlands. These will be linked together through underground cabling to a central collection point.

Up to 3000 megawatts (MW) of electrical power could then be exported from this point via two underground and subsea cables to UK grid connection points, Pentir in north Wales and Pembroke in south Wales. No new overhead power lines will be installed. The first 2000MW connection has been confirmed for 2017 and remaining 1000MW connection will be available for 2018.

The project will use the latest high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology, which allows for very efficient transfer of energy over long distances, and is offered by established companies such as Siemens and ABB. The cables will be laid in the verge of public roads on shore, in a similar manner to other services such as water, phone, or gas pipes. Offshore, the cable will be installed by specialised ships under the seabed of the Irish Sea.

The project will be totally independent of the Irish electricity grid and will involve absolutely no cost to the Irish taxpayer. It will however, enable Ireland to export in excess of €1.2billion of wind generated electricity annually to the UK.

UK National Grid has requested tThe Greenwire cables be sized to help offset the need for UK onshore grid reinforcements and enhance the level of interconnection between the Irish and UK power systems.

It is also intended to install fibre optic connection along the two undersea cables between the UK and Ireland and between each of the wind-farms which will itself create a new an substantial broadband network in its own right, significantly improving the prospects for attracting technology and data processing related industries to nearby towns.

Along with the existing 500MW EirGrid Interconnector and the 450MW Moyle Interconnector, the additional interconnection capacity created by Greenwire will give Ireland enormous additional security in its electricity supplies, helping attract foreign investment in energy sensitive industries.

Element Power’s Irish operation in Cork is headed up by Tim Cowhig and a team of experienced wind developers, previously of SWS Energy. The wider Northern European operation is led by Mike O’Neill, previously of RES Group. The company is backed by Hudson Clean Energy Partners, a leading global private equity firm with over $1billion in funding capital dedicated to investing in clean energy.

IDA Ireland is championing the development of Ireland’s renewable energy export industry, recognising that Ireland has wind resources far in excess of what is needed to meet its own renewable energy targets. IDA’s Clean Technologies Division sees the ‘export of electrons’ from Ireland to the UK and other European neighbours as a great opportunity for employment creation in Ireland.

Last month Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte and UK Energy Minister, Charles Hendry agreed a formal Memorandum of Understanding on renewable energy trading between the two countries to be in place by the end of the year.

Element Power Ireland CEO, Tim Cowhig commented, “Greenwire is a particularly timely project which will enable the economy to harness our renewable energy resources to our economic advantage. The UK energy requirement has become Ireland’s opportunity, it makes perfect sense to capitalise on our geographic location and create an export industry. Greenwire is the enabling project that will allow this to happen boosting our national trade and generating considerable employment and benefit to the Midlands region.”

“In anticipation of getting UK grid connection, the company has been working in Ireland over the past two years identifying potential wind farm sites, speaking with local authorities, working with environmental consultants and reaching agreements with land-owners. This is an important step in enabling the project and helping us to meet our target of exporting renewable energy to the UK by 2018. We also spent considerable effort identifying the best grid points in Wales, and we designed our project to match the capacity available. Our connections are not triggering any new overhead line reinforcements in the UK, and this gives us confidence that we can connect by 2018, in time to help the UK meet their 2020 targets.”

The planning application for the Greenwire project will be made in consultation with local authorities and communities in the Midlands. Element Power is currently in consultation with An Bord Pleanála with a view making an application under the terms of the Strategic Infrastructural Development Act 2006.