SSE, Ireland’s largest renewable energy generator and developer, says the industry must demonstrate the long-lasting and positive contribution wind energy can make to local and national economies, or risk losing the trust of communities, policy makers and regulatory authorities.
Since it entered the Irish energy market in 2008, SSE plc has committed itself to developing a diverse and balanced generation capacity on the island. The Top-40 FTSE listed company has made a significant long-term commitment to Ireland. Its retail brand Airtricity recently completed the acquisition of Northern Ireland’s natural gas provider Phoenix Supply and now supplies over
750,000 electricity and gas customers across the island. More recently SSE further demonstrated its investment commitment to Irish energy by announcing its acquisition of Endesa Ireland including the development of what will be the island’s cleanest, most modern and most efficient gas-fired power plant at Great Island, Co. Wexford – a deal valued at half a billion euro.
“SSE has a long-term commitment to serving customers, employing people, and providing a sustainable, secure and competitive supply of energy to power our rapidly growing supply business, Airtricity,” Mark Ennis, Chairman of SSE Ireland, comments. “At the core of this commitment is the company’s continued investment into the future of Irish renewables.
“SSE is the largest generator of renewable energy in the UK and Ireland, with over 3000MW of generation capacity installed, of which 500MW is installed here in Ireland. The company’s ongoing investment here is designed to ensure SSE has a diverse, well balanced portfolio that will deliver a decarbonised, secure and affordable energy supply for its customers. This is underpinned by a commitment to reduce the carbon dioxide intensity of electricity produced at its power stations by 50% by 2020.”
For SSE, Ireland’s largest renewable energy generator and developer, investment in onshore wind plays a major role in delivering that decarbonised generation mix. The technology is already reliable, cost-effective and scaleable, and will continue to mature and develop.
There is over 2GW of wind generation capacity currently installed on the all-island network, enough to power more than 1.3 million homes. Indeed at times, wind is supplying 50% of total power demand, one of the highest levels of renewable electricity penetration anywhere in the world. For example, on Christmas Day 2011, wind power consistently generated 42% of power demand across the day.
SSE already owns and operates 25 onshore wind farms across Ireland generating over half a gigawatt of installed capacity. This summer, the company announced that it would create up to an additional 200 jobs over the next two years through construction works associated with the development of new renewable energy wind farms on the island. The company further expects to invest at least an additional half a billion pounds sterling into renewables projects across the island by 2020.
It’s a major commitment by SSE into the future of Irish renewable energy and the largest single commitment by any renewables developer. It’s also an important private investment contribution towards meeting the targets set by both the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to generate 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
A report recently published by stockbrokers Davy claims that meeting those targets will require investment of up to €5 billion between now and 2020. Mark Ennis says the Davy report draws into sharp focus the challenges facing the energy sector. “Any major investor in the Irish energy sector, such as SSE, requires joined-up, credible, stable and long-term policy and regulation commitments in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and alignment of Regulators both North and South towards achieving those commitments. To date politicians North and South have given the industry clear goals and targets but a question mark remains over whether the Regulators in each market are fully supportive of those policies. Even if this is only a perception it adds regulatory risk and unnecessary cost to projects which ultimately will be paid for by the Irish energy consumer. We all must work to ensure that this is not the case so that energy utilities like SSE can be ambitious in meeting Ireland’s decarbonisation and security of supply challenges.
“With regard to the specific of renewable energy, the environmental benefits are perhaps the most obvious to consumers. Wind energy is essential to reducing Ireland’s carbon emissions, tackling climate change and putting us at the forefront of the new green industrial revolution. We often forget that there is an important economic story that begins with investment decisions too.”
Renewables make a very real and sustained contribution to the country’s economy, offsetting expensive imports of fossil fuels, providing direct and indirect employment as well as net financial contributions to local communities, services and economies.
“For SSE, renewable energy projects represent an investment in an indigenous, resilient and diverse energy system. They provide the diversity needed to reduce dependence on fuel imports and reduce Ireland’s sensitivity to oil and gas price shocks. That investment translates at a local level too. From cradle to grave, renewables are creating direct and indirect jobs in local businesses,” Ennis says.
As Ireland’s leading wind farm developer, SSE is committed to sustainable development and to being a long-term member of the local community. As well as significant environmental benefits, wind energy brings welcome economic benefits through local authority rates, land rental, community funds, local civil infrastructure upgrades and increased demand on a variety of local businesses.
Paul Cooley, SSE Renewables General Manager, will oversee the creation of those 200 new construction jobs over the next two years through works associated with SSE’s pipeline of upcoming wind farms. According to Cooley, the variety of jobs created by a single onshore wind farm can be surprising. “At a project’s early development stage people are working in areas ranging from site identification, wind analysis, and ecology to archaeology and aviation. Each of these jobs ensures that the final site and project design is ideal. Peak employment is reached once a project proceeds to construction, with further jobs created in construction, logistics, project management and electrical engineering. At SSE’s Slieve Kirk wind farm for instance, a total of 42.5 full-time construction jobs were created with more than 150 people employed on site at peak construction, drawn from local engineering, construction and service firms.”
SSE believes hard yards in community engagement are critical towards the success of each of its wind farms, not only during development and construction but also through the lifetime of each wind farm’s operation. Over a typical 25 year lifetime and based on current rates, SSE estimates that each of the wind farms it operates will contribute around €250,000-per-MW-installed into a local community through a combination of landowner payments, local authority commercial rates, and community fund contributions.
The company is the industry’s leading promoter of community funding in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the last year alone SSE and Airtricity contributed over €650,000 in community funding to local projects tackling energy inefficiency in communities beside its wind farms. From insulation and dry lining in community halls and primary schools to solar panels and energy efficient lighting at sports grounds and in village centres. This year, that figure will grow to over €700,000.
“The positive impact the renewable energy industry can make in a community is only as strong as the industry’s weakest link”
SSE’s community engagement is a major demonstration of the impact that renewable energy can have on local communities. However the impact that one company can have in a community and can make in forging relationships with wider communities and policy makers will only be as strong as the industry’s weakest link.
“We’re proud at SSE to be the industry leader in community engagement, in community partnership and in community funding however we would like to see more renewable energy developers follow our lead,” Paul Cooley comments. “The industry is at an important point where we need to demonstrate to community stakeholders and policymakers the long-lasting and positive contribution wind energy can make to the local and national economy, and the industry needs to do this responsibly, consistently, and in a manner that’s open and verifiable.
“Whether it’s the way in which each wind energy developer consults with communities, partners with communities through the construction cycle, or supports those communities that welcome wind farms into their locality, every single developer who is invested in the future of renewable energy in Ireland now has a responsibility to ensure we do all we can to retain the trust of communities, politicians, policy makers and regulatory authorities.
“In this way we’ll secure the sustainability of the industry, we’ll tackle decarbonisation, we’ll meet our security of supply challenges, and we’ll reap the economic opportunity that investment in green energy presents for the entire island.”
SSE making energy better for communities
As well as being the island’s No.1 renewable energy generator SSE is also the leader in community benefit funding. The Airtricity Community Fund helps communities in the vicinity of SSE’s wind farms tackle energy inefficiency and promote sustainability. This year, the company will present over €700,000 from its Community Fund to local energy projects across the island, while works are currently ongoing on projects which have already been funded. Here are some of their stories.
“Airtricity’s funding will revive Templeglantine Community Hall. The funding is being used to re-insulate the building. Through these measures we aim to cut heat loss by over 75%, greatly reducing our running costs. The hall will become an efficient landmark building for all to be proud of.”
Christy Walsh, Templegantine Muintir na Tire, Co. Limerick
“Airtricity’s support towards the insulation of the Newtownstewart Parish Hall will make a huge difference come winter, not only by ensuring the hall is more comfortable and warm for visitors, but also in helping to reduce the hall’s overall running costs.”
Irene Spratt, Ardstraw & Baronscourt Youth Council, Co. Tyrone