The Clare County Council has given the go-ahead for what will be the largest community owned wind farm development in Ireland. The 84-megawatt (MW) project is expected to cost US$254.3 million. The construction phase —to begin in 2012—will create 200 jobs, and the facility will employ 100 people when it is operational.
The project is being driven by John Cleary Developments (JCD) of Cork, a property development and investment company. However, a group of 30 local farmers has established a company, West Clare Renewable Energy—in which they will hold the majority of shares—as the legal entity developing the wind farm.
Chairman of the group of local farmers, Padraig Howard, said that giving the families the majority share in the company will have a "transformational effect" on rural Ireland. Each family will receive US$42,000 a year when the project becomes operational.
"Farm families are struggling and food prices are not what they were 20 years ago, and farmers depend on subsidies and direct farm payments. This project will provide farmers with a new source of income and allow farm families to remain on the land," said Howard.
The wind farm will comprise 29 turbines, deployed on a 3,000 acre property situated on a mountain slope between Ennis and Miltown Malbay, and will generate enough energy to power every home and business in County Clare.
It will be the county’s largest renewables project since the Ardnacrusha Power Station, which briefly held the title of the world’s largest hydroelectric plant upon its completion in 1929, before being eclipsed by the Hoover Dam the following year.
Unlike many remote areas in Ireland, which lack easy grid access, the wind farm will be sited less than one kilometer (about two-thirds of a mile) from the nearest grid connection point, due to County Clare’s position as an energy-generation hub for western Ireland.
“Unlike other areas, there are no new transmission lines to be built,” says Padraig Howard, chairman of West Clare Renewable Energy. “It’s already in existence – but we still can’t connect to it.”
“That’s really the only stumbling block at the moment,” Howard says.
He adds that the project ticks all three boxes Ireland’s grid operator had asked to be prioritized for new wind projects:
- It has received its planning permission;
- It is close to existing grid infrastructure; and
- It has strong community support.
Members of the local community will be given preference when it comes to awarding construction contracts and other employment, Howard says.
Despite its dazzling wind resource and long association with energy production, County Clare has just 32.1MW of wind capacity at present – far behind Ireland’s leader, County Cork, with 253.1MW, according to the Irish Wind Energy Association.
The project, which will cut carbon emissions by 4.4 million tons over its lifetime, will meet the Limerick Clare Energy Agency’s 2010 targets for emissions reductions and renewable energy production. Limerick Clare Energy Agency (LCEA), has been established with investment from Ireland’s Limerick and Clare County Councils. The agency provides energy efficiency solutions to organizations seeking sustainable operation and development.
Despite being plagued by planning issues, Ireland has put onshore wind at the center of its strategy for meeting its 2020 renewables targets mandated by the European Commission. Ireland intends to raise its onshore wind capacity from 2.1 gigawatts (GW) to 4.1 GW over the next decade, while lifting its offshore capacity from 36 megawatts (MW) to 555 MW, in order to meet its mandated 16 percent renewable energy target.
Although there was some opposition to the development, John Cleary of JCD said that 99 percent of local residents support the project. The company is also in discussions with some European venture capital firms regarding investing.
"We are in detailed discussion with a number of European-based private equity funds, which have expressed a keen interest in becoming involved in the financing of the project—which is truly a great endorsement in the current difficult economic environment," remarked Cleary.
The project has been in development for the last three years and Cleary said that they have been very impressed with the consistently high wind speeds recorded at the site over that time. "Also, the recent agreement between the British and Irish governments, whereby the British have committed to purchase renewable energy generated in Ireland, will dramatically increase the market for the energy produced and reinforces the long-term sustainability of the project," said Cleary. The wind farm is expected to deliver a community fund for the four parishes in the area that will amount to between US$85,000 to US$115,000 in the early phase of the project; and a multiple of that figure, after 10 years, when the debt is paid down on the scheme.
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Edited by Rich Steeves