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JULY 2019
Energy Focus
Wind farming, Irish style
Grattan Healy, Chairman, Irish Wind Farmers Association (IWFA), examines the challenges involved in
commercial wind projects.
Last month the Irish Government adopted its belated
but welcome Climate Action Plan. Ireland's performance
on climate to date has been good on electricity but
otherwise poor. While the new ambition is welcome,
a huge number of obstacles must be removed and
measures implemented so that the Plan's objectives can
be achieved. This is fantastic news as regards economic
development in rural Ireland, and the wind industry, and
the Irish Wind Farmers Association (IWFA) will be putting
its shoulder to the wheel to help Government achieve its
Climate Plan targets for wind energy
The Plan calls for approximately another 9,000 MW of
renewable energy to be in operation by 2030, when we
have something around 5,000 MW today. Some 4,000
MW of that increase is attributed to onshore wind, and
that is ambitious.
Anyone considering going down the road of developing
a commercial wind project to help meet Government's
ambition needs to appreciate that there is now a long
and complex process to go through. Recent changes
mean there is essentially a logical three-stage process -
planning permission, grid connection and price support,
although before applying for planning permission, land
options need to be in place.
Each step of the way involves long delays and
considerable cost, without a guarantee of success at the
end, which means taking considerable commercial risk.
Planning has become much more complex,
involving very serious environmental work, local
engagement, possible appeals to An Bord Pleanala
and sometimes even judicial review before planning is
received. Objectors talk a lot about the health impact
of wind-farm noise, even though the wind sector is
highly regulated as regards noise, both before and after
construction, yet they rarely pursue such claims in
court. They can oppose any project on environmental
grounds and face no risk of costs when they lose in
court. Without significant changes, we will see all
infrastructure including wind, water and broadband,
grind to a halt. This author lives between three wind
farms and there is literally no issue; indeed it is a joy,
even without any commercial interest in them.
Reducing grid connection delays
There was a period where grid connection delays were
more than 15 years, so that there was no planning
requirement to apply for one. The regulator, CRU,
has returned to having planning as a requirement for
making a grid application, reducing demand for grid and
reducing risk in the overall process, on the assumption
that actual grid connections will be delivered within the
planning period (normally 10 years). This hasn't been
fully tested yet. Incredibly, wind farms pay millions for
grid connections and must then hand the assets over to
ESB Networks for 1. This has been shown to be very
economically ine cient and IWFA would like to see this
complex and expensive policy changed, not only to
reduce cost to the economy, but to also reduce delays
and risk.
The next step is to seek a regulated support price for
the electricity, in order to satisfy the banks in providing
the loan, usually above 80 per cent of the project
cost. Previously, the support was a guaranteed (or
fixed) price for every unit of electricity and banks were
comfortable with that process. Now, projects will have
to return to bidding on that price and provide guarantees
that they will build if they are awarded support. Smaller
projects will find this very di cult and community
projects will really struggle with the huge costs and risks
inherent in the whole process. IWFA has been urging
the authorities to reduce the risks for these categories
of project by giving special access to grid and o ering a
fixed price instead of a tender, both permanently open.
But it remains to be seen how the support is actually
implemented in its detail. A sting in this scheme's tail
is making community contribution funds (already in
place in many cases) obligatory at a level of 2/MWhr of
power generated. That will give communities a problem
trying to access and spend all that money and further
raise the cost of wind, while not actually addressing core
community engagement issues. But the main impact
will be to allow all renewable projects to transfer all of
JULY 2019
Energy Focus