Clean Energy Hub to develop windfarms on cutaway peatlands
16 January 2014
Author: John Reilly, head of PowerGen, Bord na Móna
John Reilly is speaking at the National Power & Electricity Summit, which takes place in Croke Park on January 29. The summit is an industry event focusing on innovation, development and investment in the sector. A special rate of €295 + vat is available to Engineers Ireland members. Full-time engineering students can attend for as little as €150 (including vat). To avail of these rates and for the full agenda, visit www.powersummit.ie and enter the code ENGINEERS. Call Jackie on 087 0557913 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EU Commission is currently considering what Europe’s ‘Climate & Energy Framework’ should look like in the period to 2030. Though views differ across member states with regard to whether a specific renewable energy target should be included, there is no doubt that Europe’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction efforts will be stepped up considerably.
A reduction of up to 50% in GHG emissions is currently on the table and, with or without a targeted level of renewable energy consumption included, the efforts to decarbonise the European economy will move to another level over the next 10-15 years.
To date, efforts have centered mainly on the energy sector, simply because decarbonisation of the electricity system is a realistic goal, with the sector itself committed to doing so by 2050. As a mature and cost-effective technology, it is widely accepted that onshore wind will continue to make a major contribution to the decarbonisation agenda.
At a European level, efforts to decarbonise the electricity system will result in increased deployment of low- or zero-carbon technologies, such as nuclear and renewables, as well as carbon capture and storage, subject to this technology becoming economically viable. Decarbonisation must be achieved through regional co-operation if it is to be delivered at least cost. In this corner of north-western Europe, energy co-operation between Ireland and the United Kingdom can bring many benefits to consumers, not least enhanced security of supply, as well as guaranteeing that both countries achieve their decarbonisation targets in a manner that ensures they remain competitive in the global economy.
With a vast renewable energy resource at its disposal, Ireland will meet its 2020 RES-E (renewable energy sources electricity) target through domestic action, mainly from onshore wind. This will result in the power system having one of the lowest emissions intensities in Europe by 2020. The UK faces a considerable challenge in meeting its 2020 renewable energy obligations, given the size and scale of its economy and its associated electricity demand.
Wind energy will also play a key role in the decarbonisation effort in the UK. However, the marginal cost of meeting the targets will be considerably higher, as the UK will only be able to meet a portion of the target from the lower cost, onshore wind option. The UK Government has recently indicated that it will meet its 2020 obligations through domestic efforts, but the option of importing lower cost RES-E from its neighbours, in order to reduce the compliance burden on electricity consumers, is also being strongly considered.
RENEWABLE ENERGY DIRECTIVE
Provisions for such renewable energy trading and co-operation were included in the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) and the UK and Irish governments signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2013 to jointly explore the merits or otherwise of renewable energy trading. At present, they are actively working towards the requisite Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), which could provide the framework to allow trading to occur by 2020.
Of course, the decarbonisation agenda has a much longer time-frame than 2020 and, as such, any agreement reached is likely to signal the initial phase of much closer energy co-operation between the two countries in the coming decades. If an IGA is to be signed in 2014, the proposal must be seen to deliver mutual benefits to both Governments. The increased level of interconnection likely to be delivered as part of a renewable export project should bring many benefits to both countries, such as enhanced security of supply, with lower system reserve requirements in both jurisdictions, as well as enhancing the prospect of greater regional electricity market integration.
Supply chain opportunities and enhanced economic activity, such as the increased employment and associated tax revenues which would emerge in delivering the infrastructure required to facilitate trading, are among the additional benefits to be considered as part of the cost/benefit analysis being conducted by the governments. Should the cost/benefit analysis confirm that renewable energy trading will provide benefits to both countries, a framework to allow trading to take place could be put in place before the end of 2014.
Against the backdrop of this emerging export opportunity, Bord na Móna has been revising its wind development strategy to take account of the evolving 2030 landscape. As the owner and operator of Ireland’s first commercial windfarm at Bellacorick in Co. Mayo, the company has been involved in on-shore wind development for over 20 years. The form and nature of its significant landholding, coupled with some of the best onshore wind speeds anywhere in the world, has provided the key impetus for Bord na Móna’s successful foray into renewable energy in recent years.
Much of the company’s 80,000 ha of peat lands are now reaching the end of their peat-producing life and the company has been considering a range of future uses for these vast tracts of open uninhabited lands, which have been industrial use for up to 50 years in many cases. In the east midlands region, where some 20,000 ha is held, the company is currently constructing 120 MW of generating capacity on two sites, which will be connected to the national grid and contribute to meeting Ireland’s 2020 RES-E targets. The projects at Mount Lucas, Co. Offaly (80 MW) and at Bruckana, Co. Tipperary (40 MW) are the first such large-scale wind farms to be developed on cutaway peatlands in the midlands.
The success of these domestic projects means that Bord na Móna is now planning the development of a number of additional wind farms on adjacent peatland areas in the midland region. These individual wind farms could be connected to the national grid to meet future renewable energy obligations or targets, or alternatively they could be linked together and connected to a central location, where the electricity generated could be exported via a dedicated transmission network to the UK. This is the basic principle behind the company’s Clean Energy Hub project.
The vast and relatively isolated nature of the landholdings provide the opportunity to develop generating projects of scale in a manner that will meet all relevant planning guidelines and address issues of concern raised in relation to large onshore wind-farm developments.
Having examined the suitability of these cutaway areas for wind-farm development, taking account the location of local dwellings and buildings, protected areas, communications systems and other constraints, Bord na Móna is of the opinion that up to 2 GW of generating capacity could be developed on and around its landholdings in the east midlands region. This could be done in co-operation with neighbouring land owners, who have land that could be deemed suitable for wind-farm development.
CLEAN ENERGY HUB
Since the footprint of a wind farm is comparatively small, and it utilises only a small fraction of the available land area, wind-farm development on cutaway peatlands can be integrated with other land uses. These include nature, recreation and other commercial and beneficial applications. Much of Bord na Móna’s landholding is currently inaccessible to the public. However, the road network that would be developed as part of the Clean Energy Hub would help to open up these areas to the public and provide considerable amenity value to local communities.
Given the scale of the proposed Clean Energy Hub development, the project must deliver significant benefits to the region and to the local communities. The most obvious benefits include employment associated with different stages of the project from the planning and development phase, right through construction and commissioning to the operation and maintenance of the wind farms.
Looking beyond the direct benefits associated with employment, other benefits should also be provided both nationally and to the communities where the wind farms are located. These include the payment of taxes, regulatory charges, duties and levies; rate payments to local authorities, which support the provision of local services; the upgrading of the road infrastructure in the vicinity of the wind farms; and the provision of community benefits, either through the development of local facilities and amenities, or through the creation of a community fund, which can be used to support such developments.
Bord na Móna has a long history of providing benefits to the communities in the regions where it carries out its operations. The development of wind farms on its cutaway peatlands will see a continuation of this approach. However, the company is acutely aware that many concerns and issues have been raised by communities in relation to large-scale wind-farm developments. It is therefore vital that full and meaningful consultation takes place with local communities in the area, in order to get a better understanding of their concerns and to ensure their interests are served by any future developments, not just in terms of employment created, but also in terms of the provision of a wider range of benefits and amenity value.
It is Bord na Móna’s intention that all the concerns and issues raised by local communities will be addressed to the fullest extent possible in the development of the project and it is the intention to locate turbines only where it is deemed appropriate to do so.
Given the scale of the Clean Energy Hub, it is clear that any application for planning consent will have to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála under the Strategic Infrastructure Development process. Bord na Móna will be consulting widely on its proposed development as part of this process. The first stage of a series of information sessions on the proposed development were held in the communities located around the cutaway peatlands identified for the project in 2013. Detailed consultation will continue through 2014 on all aspects of the project, as policy on the renewable energy export framework emerges through the Strategic Environmental Assessment process currently being conducted by the Government.
As part of the rigorous planning process, Bord na Móna will also be consulting with the planning authorities, environmental agencies and other interested groups prior to submitting a planning application for the Clean Energy Hub in 2015.
John Reilly is a member of Bord na Móna’s senior executive team with responsibility for the PowerGen Business Unit. He manages the performance of the existing generation assets within the group and is responsible for the strategic development, construction and commissioning of the pipeline of projects in the development portfolio. Reilly has 15 years’ experience in energy and was previously part of the senior management team at Edenderry Power, where he was responsible for business development and EHS management, prior to its acquisition by Bord na Móna Energy from the German utility player EON. Reilly is a member of Eurelectric’s Environment & Sustainable Development Policy committee and IBEC’s Energy Policy Executive, where he chairs the Climate Change Working Group. He is also on the Board of the Electricity Association of Ireland and UCD’s Electricity Research Centre.
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