A company has begun negotiations with north Mayo landowners on securing rights to build 400 wind turbines as part of a €5 billion renewable energy plan.
Organic Power of Skibbereen, Co Cork, says it has three potential investors for the scheme, which it hopes will qualify as an EU infrastructure project of common interest.
Key elements of the project include a hilltop reservoir to store excess wind energy and a transmission system capable of selling renewable capacity to Britain. Seawater would be pumped up to the reservoir with surplus wind energy to be released at other times to generate electricity as in a hydro-electric plant.
Construction, connection and transmission agreements were signed by the company last month with the British National Grid and it is in “pre-application consultation” with An Bord Pleanála.
The board has expressed a “preliminary view” that the reservoir constitutes strategic infrastructure and has said that it would have to be convinced that the wind energy inputs and cable and grid connection outputs are “realistic and achievable”.
Turbine blades and towers will also be manufactured in north Mayo as part of a plan to encourage local support and create some 2,000 jobs in partnership with European renewable energy manufacturers in the area for three years.
Mayo has the highest available wind resource in Britain and Ireland and the best wave-energy potential on the Atlantic seaboard, according to a Marine Institute study. The State’s ocean energy test site is off Belmullet, Co Mayo.
Mr McCarthy believes that Mayo Atlantic Renewable Energy Export, as the project is called, would allow export of six terawatt hours of clean power to Britain, providing about 1.5 per cent of Britain’s electricity need for 2017-18.
Progress hinges on access to sufficient land for the 400 wind turbines, the backers acknowledge.
Mayo County Council has expressed support in principle. The pre-consultation discussions with An Bord Pleanála aim to prepare the ground for a strategic infrastructure planning application.
Four possible transmission routes to the east coast have been identified, with two of the four running partly along the course of the Sligo-Dublin railway and two following the existing 110kv electricity cable network and taking in part of the Royal Canal.
The €5 billion cost includes a €1.6 billion wind farm, €400 million reservoir and €1.4 billion high voltage underground direct current transmission cable.
The company calculates the return at more than 15 per cent, with gross revenue projected in excess of €700 million annually.