“Ireland has the potential to generate far more wind energy than we could consume domestically…”

Apparently, Ireland is to become Britain’s off-shore wind farm…  That seems to be the gist of the complaint from opponents to wind farms in the Irish Midlands, as reported in the Irish Times.

Andrew Duncan, spokesman for the Lakelands Wind Information Group in Co Westmeath, said: “It seems to be an Irish solution to a British problem – politically, they don’t want turbines in the British countryside.”

Last October, British energy minister John Hayes said his government would no longer have wind turbines imposed on rural communities while environment secretary Owen Paterson also referred to wind-farm “blight”.

Mr Duncan said the British government “appears to be delighted that Irish people seem less aware of the noise and visual pollution associated with wind turbines [and] don’t actually understand the scale of them”.

And at the Irish Economy blog, Richard Tol weighed in too

Yesterday, Pat Rabbitte and Ed Davey signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The MoU is crafted in terms of the Renewables Directive, which allows EU Member States to pool their targets. Essentially, the MoU gives the UK an exclusive claim on any excess (wrt target) renewables that Ireland may have. A monopsony is good for the buyer, but less attractive to the seller. Either the Irish government has little faith in the emergence of a market for renewable obligations, or perhaps Ireland felt it needed to do the UK a favour, for instance in return for the bailout.

The MoU does not specify any project, but there is an expectation (see here and here) of large wind farms in the Irish midlands, transmitted to England and Wales via a dedicated grid.

This is intriguing. Midland winds are not particularly favourable, and definitely cannot compete with the winds of England and Wales once the costs of long distance transmission, including an undersea cable, are accounted for. This project only makes sense when you consider the difficulties in building wind turbines in the England and Wales. Ireland’s comparative advantage is the weakness of its planning regulations.

Well, perhaps…  But colour me sceptical.  Particularly on the “dedicated grid”.  ANYhoo…  Here’s the source of the complaint, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Irish and UK Governments – “On cooperation in the energy sector” [scroll down].  From the associated [linked] press release

The Memorandum of Understanding affirms the two States’ commitment to:

• maintaining a strong partnership on energy issues;

• achieve closer integration of electricity markets, and

• maximise the sustainable use of low carbon renewable energy resources.

The MOU will trigger detailed analysis of how Irish renewable energy resources, onshore and offshore, might be developed to the mutual benefit of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Any such trading of renewable energy between the two States will seek to achieve more cost efficient uses of resources, drive down deployment costs, be sustainable in the long term, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

If analysis shows that renewables trading would be to mutual benefit, the next stage would be to develop an inter-governmental agreement for signing in 2014. A tight timeline is essential if potential projects, which would be selected through an open competitive process, are to commence exporting wind energy from Ireland to the United Kingdom by 2020.

And now that they’ve agreed, in 2011, the limits of each States off-shore jurisdiction around this island “to facilitate the development of offshore renewable energy installations”… [Without prejudice to the negotiation of territorial sea boundaries! – Ed]  Indeed.

  • David Crookes

    [A simple soul writes.] Sell your wind-generated power to the RoI and then to NI before you sell it to anyone else. It seems MAD to supply GB with wind-generated power rather than NI.

  • George

    It’s all a question of scale. Ireland is looking to export its equivalent daily use of electricity and the UK is the most logical first market.

    The UK is looking to meet its EU Directive requirements (referendum willing) of 10% renewable energy by 2020.

    €10 billion will be invested in Ireland between now and 2020.

    From the Irish government’s “strategy for renewable resources 2012-2020”:

    “Ireland’s renewable energy resources have a rich potential (subject to an economically viable market being
    in place) for the development of an export industry to UK in the first instance and to North West Europe over time .”


    Ireland’s onshore wind, offshore wind and ocean energy resources are an export opportunity therefore and that is the context in which the Government intends to create the conditions for its development . There are also market possibilities for onshore wind projects of significant scale
    which may in time offer the potential for the development of export to the UK market directly from the island of Ireland to UK market.

    I think the real question should be why UK wind power subsidies could end up being spent in Ireland and not within its own borders.

    As for the Bog of Allen, not a whisper for years about the destruction of that peatland.

  • Wind power is currently very expensive. But we do need to start developing alternative energy sources in a big way in order to reduce the pollution from fossil fuel plants. I don’t see any problem with selling power to the UK. I live in an area which has the largest density of wind turbines in Canada and I have no objection. We also have the largest nuclear power site in the world; I worked there before retirement. There aren’t currently too many options to reduce carbon burning. People who think they are contributing by buying electric cars or hybrids are being sold a pup. The electricity mainly comes from fossil fuel burning generating stations.

  • sherdy

    If our politicians north and south could combine their efforts we would have plenty of wind energy without resorting to unsightly wind turbines.

  • aquifer

    Ireland has lots of wind energy, fewer people, and a pressing need for economic stimulus. Investing outside money in wind farms here seems to make a lot of sense, and it will never be economic to build enough wires to export it all, so some will stay here.

    With OPEC expecting oil prices at $110/ barrel for 2013 (FT) this may prove a great deal.

    Wind is now a lot cheaper than nuclear so the chance of getting a reactor on our doorstep has diminished.

  • acquifier,

    Things must be different over there. Our electricity distributor pays 2 1/2 times as much for wind power than they do for nuclear electricity.

  • David Crookes

    Let’s have lots of them on both sides of the border.

    The ‘noise pollution’ poppycock is rich when it comes from people who have tormented their neighbours for years with ear-tormenting ride-on lawnmowers.

    As for the visual effect, there would be far less outcry at the proposal to build several thousand quaint-and-nostalgic Dutch windmills. Yet the wind turbine of today is no less romantic and no less functional than the windmill of yore. Not everyone agrees that wind turbines are ugly.

    Fossil fuels are ugly in many ways, and we need to stop pretending that they will last for ever.

  • pauluk

    Please don’t allow them to destroy the beauty of Ireland with a series of grotesque and inefficient wind farms.

  • pauluk

    You may not live or visit there. The beauty is on the coasts, not the midlands. And would you really prefer to be able not to see more than a few miles due to smoke?

  • derrydave

    I lived right beside one of the largest windfarms in Ireland in Mountain Lodge, Co Cavan, for a number of years. I actually always liked them – thought it was very relaxing to sit in the garden on a summers day watchin them. The magic of mother nature working with modern technology to create power ! They are actually quite beautiful in their own way, and as david mentions above, the noise pollution arguement is complete poppycock ! These things are very, very quiet – you usually can hear nothing from them and when you do hear something (which is faint) it is only when you are out in your garden on a very quiet day. Frankly the noise of the wind (good old mother nature) blowing against your house is much louder ! Bring them on I say 🙂

  • iluvni

    amazing the number of people who want inefficient costly bird slicers to destroy their own countryside in the name of saving the environment

  • grandimarkey

    I live in Scotland where there are wind-farms a plenty. I like them too, they are majestic and when confronted with many of them they are also quite epic to behold. I would have no problem with more of them in Ireland.

    It is a matter of personal opinion I suppose but I don’t think they ruin scenery at all…

  • boondock

    Wind farms look fine from a distance the problem is when you walk close to them do you realise the true impact they have on the local scenery. I would certainly be up for large off shore wind farms but I guess cost still makes it difficult

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, derrydave. The Altahullion wind farm has a great visual dignity.

    One church near Castledawson installed a wind turbine on its own grounds some time ago. That turbine pays the wages of the priest. It also pays for the upkeep of the church and its grounds. No more cake sales for the church organ fund!

  • JR

    I’m surprized the irish times published this complete rubbish. The Idea that Britain is building a wind farm in the midlands and taking all the power back under the irish sea in a big cable is complete nonsense.

    On the efficiency issue. Altnahullian produces about 100 000 MWh of electricity each year. that is 100 million units or enough for 50,000 homes. That is a significant reduction in the need for imported fossil fuels. By the way Betz’s law means that no turbine, Gas, wind, steam or water can be more than 59.3% efficient.

    The biggest issue with wind is it’s strength is variable and votlage has to stay constant across the electric grid for everything to work. This means that no grid supply can be made up of more than about 20% wind. However with a cable connecting Ireland and Britain, Ireland and France and Ireland and Norway we can produce alot more.

  • carl marks

    iluvni (profile)
    29 January 2013 at 7:41 am

    amazing the number of people who want inefficient costly bird slicers to destroy their own countryside in the name of saving the environment

    Let’s parse this,
    Inefficient, the cost of production and erection plus low maintenance costs are the main outlay, in this they are similar to coal or oil generators but when you consider that the wind is free but coal and oil to run power stations costs money the sums soon start to add up.
    Also with greater investment in R&D the cost of wind turbines is dropping and the output per dollar is rising every year.
    Costly, see above.
    Bird Slicers,
    Research has shown that the “bird Slicer effect has been greatly exaggerated (mainly by opponents of wind turbines), and what little there is soon drops of as the birds themselves adopt.
    to destroy their own countryside in the name of saving the environment
    What do you consider a environmentally friendly alternative, Fracking, lignite mining, global warming.

  • carl marks

    A recent article in New Scientist (19 Jan 2013) page 26 entitled “cutting the Bluster” deals with the very point that you bring up, it seems that as you say a broad spread (as broad as you suggest is not necessary but why not) will ensure a constant supply of wind energy.
    Add wave power into the mix and we have over 40% of our energy needs supplied without the pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

  • David Crookes

    And that’s the sensible way to go, carl marks. Home-grown energy. Three oil-tankers a day instead of five. Then try to do even better. Insulate all our houses adequately. Encourage the building of small-roomed well-insulated prefabricated houses. Tax greedy and unnecessarily large vehicles out of existence. Make war on universal car ownership by improving public transport. Work to reduce the high costs of harnessing solar energy.

    There is a political parallel waiting to be drawn between unionists who believe that the union will never end, and people who believe that fossil fuels will never run out.

  • JR

    Another big potential energy source we have is tidal Energy. Areas like Strangford lough, Carlingford lough, Rathlin sound etc have huge potential for power generation and unlike wind they are entirely predictable. We know what the tides will be till the year dot. It is however expensive. We could also see a situation where electricity prices rise and fall with the tide!

  • True, JR. The main point is that we have to look 100 years into the future and develop alternative sources. Fusion power will always be just ahead and I doubt we will get there. Yes, alternatives are currently expensive but they are in their infancy and costs will likely decrease, relatively.

  • BarneyT

    Tell me about it! My feet literally left the road walking up O’Connell St. yesterday! Any fluttering flag would have been no more!

  • JR

    True Joe, Solar PV is now more efficient and less than a quarter the price it was four years ago. This price drop and increased efficiencies would not have occurred without the government incentives across Europe and America which propped up the industry in it’s infancy.

  • carl marks

    Research in also going into the possibility of the production of hydrogen using panels with layers of chlorophyll and water to produce hydrogen which can then be put through fuel cell to produce electricity and water which can then be recycled through the panel, these if viable can produce much more energy per square meter of panel than solar panels,
    However as with all alternate energy systems storage of surplus energy (the main advantage of fossil fuels) is problematic.
    Overcoming the storage of surplus heat or energy problems would increase the viability of alternate systems at least as much as increasing the efficiency of the systems themselves.
    And as DC points out more efficient and less wasteful usage has a large place in the equation.

  • David Crookes

    I don’t want to blow an ill wind across the thread, but anaerobic digesters are making a lot of energy per unit from animal waste products. When we stop discharging human sewage into the sea, we’ll have even more material to turn either into energy or into manure.

    [What happens to the garden waste that we put in our brown bins? Does anyone know?]

    A coordinated system based on wind, tide, and sewage might take us past the 50% natural-energy mark.

  • BarneyT

    To get to some of the recently discovered planets, we’re going to need more than wind power. Atomic power ultimately is the path we need to carefully thread, with sufficient resources and research to ensure it can be made safe(r).

    In the meantime, we need to look at turbines, wave\tidal generators and solar power. With the latter the government must mass purchase the technology and deploy on each and every suitable south facing roof or cable end, to supplement household, or to feed the grid directly with the host receiving payment for rental space.

    We need to find a new efficient, safe and powerful source of energy (just check out Iron Man!) but also preserve the planet as we do so.

    However, are we not already dependent on the damage we have created in our atmosphere. If we reduce the pollution, do we not remove the protective screen?

  • carl marks

    David Crookes

    Norway is a world leader in CHP (Combined Heat and Power) systems which are fed by methane produced from Bio-Digestion systems,
    In Belfast the brown bin contents and turned into compost,
    Green waste (grass cuttings etc) is unsuitable for amoebic methane production but can be utilised in gasification systems to produce heat and power such as what was planned for the proposed plant at Glenavy using chicken droppings (same calorific value as lignite).
    Food waste and human and animal waste can produce methane on a industrial scale with a by-product of excellent compost (indeed my good lady designed and built a composting toilet for a remote orphanage in Jamaica) in short there are a wide range of alternate energy systems which all can be used to assist in solving the problem.

  • David Crookes

    That is a most exciting post, carl marks. Do you know if the garden-waste compost is used locally?

    Imagine a by-product compost made of food waste plus human and animal waste. That would be a great thing for owners of shallow-soiled land, like what you get in the Mournes. I sometimes lie awake thinking about enormous rhubarb plantations in areas of cleared moorland.

    If we ever got to the point of having civilized nothing-but-wood bonfires, the ash could be harvested as a potassium-rich fertilizer.

    I wonder if we’ll ever be able to turn the neat ridges of seaweed which accumulate on our beaches into a humus resource.

  • I wonder if we’ll ever be able to turn the neat ridges of seaweed which accumulate on our beaches into a humus resource.


    Have you never seen the wonderful movie “The Field”?

  • carl marks

    Most of the (very rich) soil on the Skerries and Achill come from seaweed hauled from the beaches over the decade by locals,
    Some of the sites date back to prehistory, seaweed was also dried and heated on metal plates to extract iodine for a long time around the coast, the industry died of at the beginning of the last century when a method of producing iodine on a industrial basis was invented, Rathlin has a kelp house as does the Giants causeway.

  • carl marks

    The garden waste compost is sold in Belfast and can also be bought at the excellent Slemish Gardens (great organic veg sold there) at the Ecos centre Ballymena, I’m told by those who know (my Lady) that is very high quality.

  • Toronto started collecting organic kitchen waste a few years ago in order to compost it and sell it. It was a disaster. There was so much salt in it that it killed gardens and, although still collected separately, just lies in regular landfills.

  • carl marks

    A problem is quality control I believe batches are sampled, and imbalances can be dealt with.
    The whole process can be completed in two weeks by a continual feed machine which uses a thread to carry the raw material through a cylinder in which both Humidity and temperature can be manipulated to suit the needs of each batch.
    Effective but I prefer the old midden system where the hardest worker is the worm and the chickens add their own little donation plus the eggs, great taste and the yokes bright yellow

  • David Crookes

    No, Joe, haven’t seen it, but many thanks for the link. Salt would be a problem in seaweed as well if you didn’t wait for the rain to leach it out. It would be possible to leach salt out of organic kitchen waste, but what would you do with the brine?

    Carl, I’m grateful for each of your three separate posts. If you haven’t already written a book about these matters, will you please do so?

    This thread is even more fun than last night’s resignation thriller. Wind, sun, food waste, human and animal waste, garden waste, plus seaweed. I must go down to the Ecos centre and sniff out what they’re doing.