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Britain offers to subsidise Irish wind farm industry

The British government could massively subsidise the Irish wind energy industry under proposals to be considered in London today.

Britain believes the west coast and the seas around Ireland can provide it with a large amount of its renewable energy and could be willing to subsidise offshore wind farms there.

Industry groups here say such a move could be worth up to €1.6 billion a year to the Irish economy.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte will be attending the British-Irish Council, where the issue of electricity interconnectivity will be high on the agenda.

Mr Rabbitte will have separate meetings with his British counterpart, Charles Hendry, who said at the weekend that the proposals could bring “significant wealth [to Ireland] with very little downside”.

Mr Hendry said the west coast of Ireland was an ideal location for wind farms, but the small Irish market meant there was no demand for the potential power generation. “We want to put that right,” he said.

The British government is considering directly subsidising electricity through its feed-in tariff system, which would be a subsidy to private investors operating on Irish territory. It could also operate by a system known as “supplier obligation”, whereby British power companies would be mandated to buy a certain amount of renewable energy from Irish sources.

Although Britain has significant wind resources of its own, especially in Scotland, it does not have enough to meet its targets of having 15 per cent of all energy from renewables by 2020.

In addition, onshore wind farms are facing considerable opposition from environmentalists and offshore wind farms are having to be built far out to sea.

Despite Ireland’s offshore wind potential, there is only one wind farm off Irish coasts. Offshore wind is considered uneconomic because of the extra costs involved and because of the belief that Ireland can meet its target of generating 40 per cent of electricity from renewable resources by 2020 by using onshore wind.

The development of the east-west electricity connector between Rush North Beach, north Co Dublin, and Barkby Beach in north Wales is expected to be completed by the end of next year and will dramatically improve the capacity for both countries to supplement each other’s electricity grids.

A spokesman for British department of energy and climate change said the British government would be seeking assurances that investment in Irish wind farms could be met within the existing regulatory framework.

Irish Wind Energy Association chief executive Dr Michael Walsh welcomed the wind farm proposal.

He said Ireland needed to generate 4,500 to 5,000 megawatts a year by 2020 to meet renewable targets. He believed there was capacity to generate 6,000 megawatts from onshore and a further 4,000 from offshore, meaning half of all Irish wind-generated energy could be exported to Britain.

He estimated that 5,000 megawatts of exported electricity would be worth €1.6 billion annually at current electricity prices.