Mainstream Renewables’ Eddie O’Connor said the UK-Ireland Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will see Irish wind energy power homes and businesses in the UK will prove to be a windfall for the Irish economy. He said thousands of potential manufacturing and green-tech jobs could be created, as well as financial benefits for landowners and local authorities in the Midlands.
O’Connor, who founded Airtricity in 1997 and sold the North American business to Eon for US$1.4bn in 2008, is CEO of Mainstream Renewables and is spearheading ambitious wind and solar-energy projects on four continents, including offshore wind in Scotland.
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Yesterday, Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte, TD, and Ed Davey, the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, signed the MoU in Dublin to progress plans for the trading of renewable energy between both countries.
O’Connor told today’s Green Growth Forum at The Convention Centre Dublin that putting in place the infrastructure to harness the abundance of wind energy will be the single biggest project ever attempted in either the UK or Ireland and would require an expenditure of €13bn.
“It’s entirely innovative that the UK is going to supply itself with 5,000 megawatts from another jurisdiction,” he said, adding: “it’s the biggest energy project that will be attempted in this country since Ardnacrusha.”
To put the commitment to supply the UK with 5,000 megawatts between 2017 and 2020 in context, O’Connor said it took Eirgrid six years to build the 500 megawatts it provides.
“The electricity will be transferred across high-voltage cables from the Midlands of Ireland to the coast of Wales.”
Enormous economic opportunity for Ireland
O’Connor said this presents a massive jobs opportunity in Ireland in terms of the manufacturing jobs that could be created. The cost of each turbine will cost €1.5bn to manufacture and producing the equipment will require at least a three- to four-year lead time.
O’Connor said firms like ABB and Siemens are interested in manufacturing this equipment. However, the scale of the equipment will be so large that the opportunity exists to manufacture the wind turbines and associated equipment and cabling in Ireland’s Midlands. He is working on introducing senior management from major European manufacturers to Ireland’s political leaders and groups, like IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, to spearhead potentially thousands of new jobs.
“When you study what’s happened in Germany and Denmark, approximately eight jobs have been created for every megawatt. Can we achieve that? It depends on IDA and Enterprise Ireland.
“Offaly County Council has designated a supercluster for this and we will need huge laydown areas for the blades. As opposed to shipping them from Poland, the manufacturers would like to come into Ireland and build them here rather than transporting them.”
O’Connor predicted Ireland could derive €2.5bn from the project by 2020.
He said the UK is running short of electricity and it is closing its coal plants. “It will have 4pc capacity margin only by 2016. Here’s an opportunity for Ireland to meet the security of energy supply, meet its green commitments and offer a lower price than gas or offshore wind, which will happen.”
O’Connor went on to say the world is running out of oil and to try and extract oil from deep oceans will cost more than investing in wind energy.
Ireland: the lynchpin for Europe’s future energy supercluster
O’Connor gave a breakdown of the opportunity for Ireland:
· More than 1,700 turbines capable of generating 3 megawatts each will be needed
· This requires the manufacture of 5,000 turbine blades
· The project will require 1,700 power cells
· This means 1,700 converters
· It also means 30 electrical substations
· A further 30 wind farms
· Some 400km of HVDC underground cables
· Hundreds of kilometres of new roads
“This will be an enormous task to accomplish. The towers with the blades will at great profit be made in Ireland and so will a lot of things,” O’Connor said, pointing out that he will hold a supply chain conference in Tullamore, Co Offaly, next month to bring the manufacturers from abroad to talk with the authorities in Ireland.
“The only thing to be shown here is commitment from the Irish Government and the UK government to allow this to happen.”
In terms of the €13bn capital expenditure to create the Energy Bridge between Ireland and the UK, O’Connor said that €7.5bn will be required for building the turbines.
“What is needed is a contract with the firms in Britain who have to supply customers at a fixed price for 20 years. In that context it’s not an enormous amount of money.
“That’s where Ireland’s Green IFSC comes in. There’s an enormous amount of work to be done and new companies to be established in Dublin, all in the context of this massive supercluster.”
Recalling his time as managing director of Bord na Móna, O’Connor said many of the power stations built with EU funds are due to be closed by 2020.
“Most counties will no longer have employment from these sources after 2020. What we have here is a tailor-made solution to the industrialisation of our Midlands.”
In terms of the financial rewards for the local communities, he said every landowner will receive €18,000 per turbine on their lands, €21,000 will go to the local authorities per turbine and a further €7,000 per turbine will be granted to local communities to support local amenities and sports clubs.
In addition, the turbines will add up to rents of €7.2m a year and rates of €7.3m a year.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take something that had no value and turn it into a treasure trove for Ireland and the UK.
“By 2050, there will no longer be electricity generated from fossil fuels. Where will Europe get its energy? Wind and solar – and we could be playing here right from the start. There is a big transition to sustainability and we in Ireland can play a massive role in delivering that,” O’Connor said.
Watch Eddie O’Connor deliver his keynote address at the Green Growth Forum on the clean energy export potential for Ireland: