Gaelectric confronts wind energy barriers on island of Ireland

Irish energy tech company Gaelectric has today met with the Northern Ireland Assembly in Dublin to highlight the remaining barriers to the development of the local renewable energy sector on the island of Ireland.

Gaelectric also spoke about the contribution of the renewable energy sector in Ireland to economic development and energy security.

The Irish renewable energy development and energy technology group is developing an extensive wind farm portfolio in Northern Ireland.

The members of the Enterprise Trade and Investment (ETI) Committee of the Northern Ireland (NI) Assembly, which included members of the DUP, SDPL, Sinn Fein, UUP and Green Party, were in Dublin today to participate in a meeting with the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture of the Oireachtas.

Gaelectric, which has recently established a Technology and Innovation office in Belfast, has nine wind farm projects at various stages of the planning approval and development process in Northern Ireland.

Addressing the ETI Committee, Gaelectric CEO Brendan McGrath said the company had been “greatly encouraged” by the support for renewable energy from the Northern Ireland Executive.

“In the last 18 months, Gaelectric has secured planning approval for four wind farm projects in Northern Ireland which total about 81MW in generation capacity,” said McGrath.

The wind farms will be located at:

  • Carn Hill, Co Antrim (13.8 MW)
  • Cregganconroe, Co Tyrone (11.5MW)
  • Inishative, Co Tyrone (13.8 MW)
  • Dunbeg, Co Derry (42MW).

“These wind farms represent a total investment of stg£110m which will create over 130 construction jobs during their development phase. Once complete they will generate enough power for around 50,000 local homes and families,” said McGrath today.

However, Gaelectric is keen to get the message across that significant barriers still exist before the island of Ireland can truly capitalise on its natural resources.

McGrath said continued Government support, and in particular the support of the relevant departments of Government in Northern Ireland and in the Republic, is “crucial in maintaining investment attractiveness”.

“Issues such as building competitive markets, maintaining and enhancing investment in grid infrastructure, providing as much certainty as possible around the planning process and policies, and ensuring a continued focus on security of supply in energy policy, are fundamental to the sector’s success,” he said.  

Future smart grid in Ireland

McGrath touched on the smart grid and smart technologies.

“We also need to develop grid technologies that allow us to capture, store and use this power efficiently. Gaelectric has been working on a unique energy storage project in the Larne area, which has the potential to allow greater utilisation of wind power without curtailment, whilst stabilising electricity prices and reducing emissions.”

McGrath also called on energy regulators on the island to collaborate more with the industry so that many practical issues impacting the renewable energy sector are understood and addressed.

Gaelectric has a further five wind farm proposals in the NI planning process. These include sites at Crockbrack (Co Tyrone); Corby Knowe (Co Antrim); Cloonty (Co Antrim); Smulgedon (Co Derry); and Monnaboy (Co Derry).

The company is also investigating a unique compressed air energy storage (CAES) facility in Larne, Co Antrim.

McGrath indicated today that development of a CAES facility will involve an investment of up to stg£200m over a three-year period, spurring about 200 jobs across the construction and engineering services sectors.

Attracting clean-tech investment to Ireland

Back in August Gaelectric and XEMC VWEC, a member of the Chinese XEMC Group concluded contracts to co-develop three wind farms in the Republic of Ireland. The value of these initial co-development projects amount to circa €18m.

Beacon Power Corp

Gaelectric has also formed alliance with the energy storage firm Beacon Power Corp in the US. Beacon, however, filed bankruptcy papers on 30 October after struggling to raise private financing.

Beacon Power received US$43m in a loan guarantee from the U.S Department of Energy lasts year. This helped it secure $69m for a new 20MW energy storage plant, based on flywheel technology.

The firm opened up a flywheel plant in Stephenstown, New York this summer. Flywheel technology stores energy so that it can then be distributed to electric grids, balancing them, and ultimately making them smarter, especially when renewable energy is intermittent.

Both Beacon and Galectric had also jointly funded an extensive study of the Irish grid under various scenarios of future wind penetration.

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