Ireland has an excellent, largely untapped, wind energy resource. The opportunity to harness this resource for the export market, and realise its potential for investment, job creation and economic growth has been identified. To this end, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation with my UK counterpart, Mr Edward Davey, on 24 January this year. This Memorandum of Understanding clearly signals the joint interest of Ireland and the United Kingdom in developing the opportunity for trading in renewable energy to our mutual benefit.
Detailed consideration of how Ireland's onshore and offshore wind resources might be developed for export to the UK is now underway, with a view to determining if it is beneficial for both countries to enter into an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) under the EU Renewable Energy Directive. There are very complex issues to be considered, including the actual scale of the export generation capacity required. Though it is ambitious, the target for completion of this work on the IGA is early 2014.
Should an Inter-Governmental Agreement be entered into, the development of any new wind farms for the export market would be underpinned by a clear policy framework. Such developments would also be subject to a selection process and to the Planning and Development Acts, including their requirements for public consultation. The mechanism for remunerating any wind farms that may in the future export renewable energy to the United Kingdom has yet to be decided, but will not involve any subsidy costs being imposed on the Irish State or consumer. Any Inter-Governmental Agreement would also have to ensure an adequate return to the Irish Exchequer.
There are potentially significant employment opportunities arising from the building of wind farms developed for export under a possible Inter-Governmental Agreement. It is estimated that a 3,000 megawatt development could provide between 3,000 and 6,000 job years in its construction phase, depending on the timescale for completion of the project. There is also potential for jobs in the on-going maintenance of turbines over a 20-year operating life.
Further employment opportunities could arise if turbines or components were to be manufactured in Ireland. All relevant State agencies, particularly in the enterprise area, would have to coordinate their activities early in the process to ensure employment potential of export projects is maximised. This opportunity has already been identified by the Investment Development Agency and Enterprise Ireland in their clean technology growth strategies. Recruitment of the work force for the development of wind export projects would be a commercial decision for the project promoters concerned, and subject to in the normal way to Irish and EU employment law.