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Paul Melia: UK ‘going it alone’ may have been deal breaker

Let no one be under any illusion that the lack of agreement between the Irish and British governments to export power means an end to wind farms.

Far from it. More than 180 farms producing enough power for 2.3 million homes remain on course to come on stream by 2020.

And nor does the breakdown in talks mean that EirGrid’s plans to erect 500km of high-voltage power lines on pylons across the country are finished.

The upgrade of the national grid has nothing to do with these export projects, and they may still go ahead.

But what it does mean is that midlands communities are no longer threatened with living with hundreds, or possibly thousands, of wind turbines whose sole function was to serve the UK market.

The breakdown in talks is not entirely unexpected. Senior government sources had indicated in recent weeks that despite the business case stacking up, the British side had displayed a reluctance to commit to a deal and sign along the dotted line, despite signing a memorandum of understanding more than a year ago.

There are a number of possible reasons for this, including the stated desire of British Prime Minister David Cameron to allow companies frack for oil and gas and produce an indigenous source of energy.

The UK is also planning to build new nuclear power plants, and may have come to the belief that it is better to go it alone. The only thing that might rescue this deal is a change of government in the UK.

There may be celebrations in the midlands, but not everyone will be happy.

It’s bad news for the private companies behind the plans, which have already invested millions in planning and securing access to the UK national grid.

Local authorities are no longer in line to receive millions of euro in commercial rates after the turbines were erected, while landowners who would have made a few quid leasing sites are unlikely to be pleased with the collapse of this deal.

Crucially for Bord na Mona, it must now find a new use for more than 20,000 hectares of cutaway bog it owns to produce a new source of revenue. Whether that involves wind farms for the domestic market remains to be seen, and the whole debate may kick off again.