Families across the midlands were granted what many will view as a welcome reprieve as the ‘plug was pulled’ on the Government’s wind farm plans.
Although Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said a significant body of work has been carried out here in order to erect thousands of wind farms and trade renewable energy with the UK, he conceded that the proposed deal with the UK is now not ‘realistic’ due to the slow pace at which the British Government are progressing the plans.
Mr Rabbitte said it became clear the deal was floundering when he met his UK counterpart Ed Davey in Brussels this week.
He told RTÉ’s News at One programme: ‘There is a pragmatic recognition that where we have reached in discussions between the two countries is not one that could realise a major project like this by the time scale imposed by the EU.’
Plans for at least 1,000 wind turbines across large swathes of land in Westmeath, Kildare, Offaly and Laois were being actively progressed here according to the Minister, but in order for two members of the EU to trade green energy, an i ntergovernmental agreement would be required.
Mr Rabbitte said: ‘We went over the enormous amount of work that has been done on the Irish side. We have done a very major amount of work in terms of the economics, finance, planning, regulatory and other decisions. We have virtually completed a costbenefit analysis that shows that very considerable benefit would apply to both jurisdictions in terms of the merit of such a trading project.
‘But there is a long lead-in period for a project of such scale and the developers need time and so on and it looks like the pace at which the critical stages of the negotiations are moving would not allow that to happen.
‘I have said on many occasions that unless there is real value for Ireland in terms of jobs revenue and dividend to the Irish exchequer that there wouldn’t be an agreement. It looks now as if it won’t be possible because there is still a very long way to go in terms of policy and regulatory decisions to be taken by the UK.’
The multi-billion euro project involved investment from Bord na Móna and private companies Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power. However, in order for it to proceed a significant amount of groundwork would have to be completed taking many years to prepare.
Mr Rabbitte said this could not happen without the terms being ‘nailed down’ ahead of the 2020 deadline by which both countries have to produce a set amount of their power needs from renewable resources.
‘You don’t make an investment of five or six billion euro without knowing what the investment holds,’ he said. ‘It’s about having it nailed down so that the huge scale of the project would be finished so that electrons would be flowing across the Irish Sea in advance of 2020. At the pace the British Government is progressing it, it doesn’t appear to me that it realistic now.’
A spokesman from the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said the deal is still possible: ‘The UK and Ireland have been working closely to explore the potential of developing Irish renewable resources to their mutual benefit and continue to do so… The UK remains committed to the prospect of trading of renewable energy.’
Labour Party Seanad spokesperson on Energy and Natural Resources John Whelan expressed relief at the news, saying: ‘As I had predicted, the British Government have pulled the plug on developer-led plans to erect thousands of industrial wind turbines across the midlands.
‘I am delighted with this news and commend the decision of the UK Climate and Energy Secretary, Minister Ed Davey, not to proceed with an inter-governmental agreement, which would have led to the catastrophic erection of thousands of giant wind farms throughout the country.’
‘It has always been my view that these far-fetched proposals for phantom wind farms would have eventually ended up like our ghost estates, as they are entirely unsustainable from an economic, environmental and social basis.’
But Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said there may be hope for the project: ‘This is a short-term reversal, but it should not be the end of the road… Trading electricity with the UK and France still makes sense if we are to meet our climate targets and keep down the cost of our own power.’
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