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Tensions between British government parties over energy policy blamed for wind deal collapse

British coalition politics have been blamed for the scuppering of plans to export wind energy from Ireland to the UK.

British prime minister David Cameron and chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne’s interest in traditional North Sea gas and nuclear energy, along with their support for fracking, has shifted the emphasis from renewables.

The Irish and British governments signed a memorandum of understanding last year to allow the export of up to 8,000 megawatts from midlands wind farms to the UK.

The Liberal Democrat minister for energy Ed Davey was in favour of continuing the deal, but an Irish negotiator said the British government was at “sixes and sevens” with regard to its energy policy.

Policy shift

A change in EU policy which has scaled back mandatory renewable energy targets from 2020 has also changed the emphasis from wind energy. “Energy is now top of the agenda in the UK. The British government policy on energy is in an absolute state of dysfunction. There is a battle between the two parties [Conservatives and Liberal Democrats],” the negotiator said.

Element Power and Mainstream Renewable Power were due to build 2,300 turbines in the midlands with a view to exporting it to Britain. It would have involved an investment of €6-€7 billion, but had to be completed by 2020 to meet EU targets.

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte said the plan will not make the 2020 deadline, but he said it is possible it could be reinstated.

Wind won’t ‘go away’

“We could have a change of government in the UK in 18 months. Supposing there is a single-party government, supposing there is a change of government and they change their position on renewables? We then have a new situation. The wind isn’t going to go away,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said the cost/benefit analysis done by his own department had shown a financial dividend for both Ireland and the UK out of a renewable export deal.

He said it was a “pity” for communities in the midlands the project is not going ahead as it would have provided 3,000-6,500 jobs. Davy Stockbrokers estimated it would have brought in €60 million for midland local authorities in rates every year.

Irish Wind Energy Association chief executive Kenneth Matthews said, “We see this an opportunity delayed rather than an opportunity lost. . . These large projects may not be delivered by 2020, but could be delivered by between 2020 and 2025.”