Ireland gives support package for wind farm growth
By Jonathan Saul
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland on Friday announced a government-backed guaranteed price for offshore wind power in a bid to boost the development of renewable energy.
Under the government's feed-in tariff scheme, offshore wind power that is produced will get a support price of 1403 euros ($202.9) per megawatt hour.
The move follows a similar initiative for onshore wind farm generation.
Ireland's energy minister Eamon Ryan said the support price was "in line with what other countries are offering."
"Now, investors can be confident when they invest in offshore wind," Ryan said in a statement. "Without it (a support price) we would not be able to attract any investment into Ireland."
Irish wind farm operator Airtricity, which Scottish & Southern Energy Plc has agreed to buy, described the support mechanism as one it "has been seeking for some time."
Ryan's Green Party, which joined Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's coalition government following a general election last May, has pushed to develop energy self-sufficiency in Ireland.
The country imports nearly 90 percent of its fossil fuel needs and is vulnerable to global supply disruptions as it is at the end of Europe's pipelines.
Rising world fuel prices have also coaxed Ireland to look for domestic solutions. It is hoped that developing renewable energy sources will reduce electricity prices paid by consumers.
"Ireland needs to reduce our fossil fuel import bill and our dependence on imported energy sources," Ryan said. "Renewable electricity is a critical cornerstone."
With nuclear power generation banned in Ireland and only limited potential for hydroelectricity, Ireland aims to derive 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
At the moment around 10 percent of electricity comes from renewables with the bulk driven by onshore wind farm generation.
The National Offshore Wind Energy Association of Ireland said Friday's move would "unlock" the sector's potential.
"Ireland's offshore wind energy operators are now moving a step further towards delivering 2000 MW of energy, with an investment of over 4 billion euros over the next five years," the industry group said.
Ryan said his department was working with ministries in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on a proposal to build new transmission links under the Irish sea.
Ryan said this could be part a new extended European offshore grid linking wind farms and ensuring stable supply.
"If we can connect and integrate wind farms from other jurisdictions, electricity will be produced wherever the wind is blowing," he said.
(Editing by Anthony Barker)