Bord na Móna has significant land holdings in the Midlands of Ireland, many of which are reaching the end of their peat-producing life. In the East Midlands region, where some 20,000 ha is held, the company is planning the development of a number of windfarms on adjacent peatland areas that will be ‘cutaway’ by 2020.
These individual windfarms could be linked together to create a Clean Energy Hub. This hub, or electricity node, could then be linked to new cables developed to carry renewable electricity (RES-E) to the UK and to European markets. Individual windfarm developments in the region could also be connected directly to the existing Irish electricity network to help meet future RES-E targets beyond 2020.
Since the footprint of a windfarm is comparatively small, and it utilises only a small fraction of the available land area, windfarm development on cutaway peatlands can be integrated with other land uses. These include nature, recreation and other commercial and beneficial applications. Lough Boora Parklands in County Offaly is a good example of an area that has been developed by Bord na Móna for amenity purposes (www.loughbooraparklands.com).
The first such windfarms on cutaway peatlands in the Midlands are currently being built by Bord na Móna at Mount Lucas, County Offaly, (80 MW) and at Bruckana, County Tipperary (40 MW). Both of these windfarms will be commissioned in 2014, will be connected into the Irish grid, and will produce RES-E that will help Ireland to meet its 2020 renewable energy target.
At present, Bord na Móna is assessing just how much of the peatland that it owns in the East Midlands will be cutaway by 2020. It is also examining the suitability of these cutaway areas for windfarm development, taking account of local dwellings and buildings, the location of protected areas, communications systems and other constraints. Initial indications are that up to 1,200 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity could be accommodated on our peatlands in this region in the period to 2020.
On completion of the site screening exercise, Bord na Móna may opt to enter into partnerships with other neighbouring land owners, or with parties that have options on adjacent lands, in order to optimise farm layout and energy capture from these sites. If adopted, this partnership approach may facilitate the development of up to 2,000 MW of installed capacity on the expanded area.
• They are industrial, brown-field sites, suitable for redevelopment;
• Uninhabited, with an absence of residential or commercial premises;
• Open, unenclosed landscape with good wind characteristics;
• Significant scale, and are present in large contiguous land blocks;
• Linked by machine passageways, suitable for cable connections;
• Generally flat and well drained, with minimal dangers of land slippage.
Commenting on the benefits John Reilly, Head of Bord na Móna’s Powergen business, said: “The most obvious benefits include employment associated with different stages of the project: the planning and environmental assessment; the engineering and project design; the construction of access roads, turbine foundations and the erection of the turbines themselves; and the operation and maintenance of the windfarm throughout its life.
“From our experience with Mount Lucas and Bruckana, we know that significant additional jobs will be created through the supply of materials, such as gravel, concrete and steel, and services like food and accommodation and legal and financial services during the development and construction phases.”
Looking beyond the direct benefits associated with employment, other benefits are also provided both nationally and to the communities where the windfarms are located. These include:
• The payment of taxes, regulatory charges, duties and levies;
• Rate payments to the local authority, which support the provision of local services;
• The upgrading of the road infrastructure in the vicinity of the windfarm; 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 windfarms on its cutaway peatlands will see a continuation of this approach. With this in mind, Bord na Móna is keeping its policy on the provision of community benefits under review, in the light of current developments and emerging norms in the sector.
While Ireland expects to meet its 2020 RES-E target, mainly from onshore wind, the United Kingdom faces a considerable challenge in meeting its 2020 renewable energy obligations. The UK has set a RES-E target of 31 per cent by 2020 but, unlike Ireland, it will only be able to meet part of this from onshore wind. This leaves the UK with the option of building more expensive windfarms offshore, or importing RES-E from its neighbours. Provisions for such renewable energy trading were included in the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC), and the UK and Irish governments have already signed a Memorandum and are actively working towards the requisite Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA).
Bord na Móna is not, at this stage, involved in the development of either onshore or sub-sea HVDC connections to the UK, but is focusing on the development of a suite of windfarms that would form a Clean Energy Hub. The route to market for the renewable power produced by this hub will be reviewed following the publication of the IGA, which is expected by the end of the year or early in 2014.
Over the next year, Bord na Móna will be progressing with a programme of work aimed at facilitating the creation of the Clean Energy Hub. Commenting on the programme, John Reilly stated: “Our programme includes the erection of wind monitoring masts on a number of our bogs, the conducting of ecological and environmental studies, the geotechnical assessment of ground conditions and preliminary design layouts for the windfarms.
“It is also vital that we consult with local communities in the area, so that we better understand their concerns and 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.”
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 (SID) process. Bord na Móna will be consulting widely on its proposed development as part of this process.
Commencing this autumn, it will be holding initial information sessions in the communities located around the cutaway peatlands identified for development. It will also be consulting with the planning authorities, environmental agencies and other interested groups prior to seeking planning consent for the Clean Energy Hub.
John Reilly is head of the Powergen Business within the Bord na Móna Group. For more information, contact him by email at John.Reilly@bnm.ie