Remarks by Element Power CEO Tim Cowhig to Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
February 18th 2014 Check against delivery…..
I’d like to begin by thanking you, the members of the committee, for giving Element Power the opportunity to address you today.
I’m Tim Cowhig, CEO of Element Power Ireland. I’m joined by two colleagues, Kevin O’Donovan, Chief Development Officer and Peter Harte, Chief Technology Officer. The company was established in 2008 and specialises in the development of onshore wind with a presence in 16 countries. We have Irish offices in Tullamore and Cork City. Our Greenwire project proposes developing 40 wind farms on 20,000 hectares of lands in the Midlands for export to the UK on new dedicated grid connections.
Public debate on topics of national importance such as this is always welcome. It provides us with an opportunity to discuss the benefits of our proposal in a national forum and set out how this project can be a catalyst for economic recovery in the Midlands.
I would also like to acknowledge the anxieties which have been expressed by many people in relation to wind energy in general and the proposals for the Midlands in particular. I am very aware that we have an obligation to allay concerns and provide answers to the many questions raised.
Creating a new industry
We are moving towards a European energy market where a trans-european power network connecting countries across Europe would facilitate surplus power flowing to where the electricity is needed. It also makes Ireland more self reliant in the event of a crisis.
In Ireland, we have an abundance of wind, much more than we need for our own needs so we have an opportunity to create a new export industry like our beef and dairy export businesses creating thousands of jobs.
In its document, ‘Strategy for Renewable Energy: 2012 – 2022’, the Government has identified the export of renewable energy as one of five strategic goals. With that in mind, the Irish and British Governments are hoping to deliver an Intergovernmental Agreement very soon to facilitate the trading of renewable energy between the two countries. A Strategic Environmental Assessment and new planning guidelines are also being drafted by the Irish Government.
Our project therefore, is in line with Government policy.
The UK’s need
The Greenwire proposal is very timely in light of developments in the UK energy market. Our British neighbours had been energy independent since the discovery of North Sea oil and gas in the 1970s.
However, those reserves are nearing depletion and the UK is once again facing a reliance on imported energy to meet its demand. The UK is also decommissioning its ageing nuclear and coal powers stations. These currently supply some 20% of its energy.
The UK has made a commitment that 30% of its electricity will be from renewable sources by the year 2020. While it has three times as much onshore wind as Ireland, the UK needs another 12,000MW (or 12 GW) of renewable energy before 2020 to achieve 30% of their electricity from Renewables.
This is where Britain’s energy challenge should be seen as Ireland’s opportunity. However it is important to note that the UK has other options for meeting its energy needs including offshore wind, hydro from the Nordic countries, geothermal from Greenland/Iceland and nuclear from France. So Ireland must take this opportunity or risk missing the chance to create this new export sector.
The Midlands region possesses an enormous and largely untapped natural resource in wind energy. And tapping that resource could have a transformative effect on the economy of the Midlands.
Community Benefit Programme
Our planning laws require that for projects of such scale there must be a community contribution. If granted planning permission for Greenwire, Element Power intends to establish a comprehensive Community Benefit Programme to assist the community where the wind farms are located, in particular for those living closest to the turbines. The entire local community would reap the dividends of our project, not just landowners, local authorities, businesses, tradesmen and others besides.
This Community Benefit Programme would be established prior to construction and would operate for the duration of the wind farms’ commercial lifetime. We have met with numerous voluntary community groups, development associations, local enterprise bodies and sporting clubs and societies across the five counties where the Greenwire project is proposed. These meetings have taken place as part of a series of public information days in addition to an extensive consultation programme which has been underway since 2012. The feedback garnered to date has been extremely positive on many levels.
The Community Benefit Programme would consist of a number of components in particular
A near neighbour fund for those living closest to turbines
A Local Community Fund
An Educational Fund and
An Enterprise fund
The Near Neighbour Fund would include the financing of practical energy projects for individual households (greener homes). It would be established where those living closest to the wind farms would receive direct supports from the wind farm.
We are proposing that all families living within one kilometre of a turbine would benefit directly from the project. We are engaging with community to see how best this fund might operate.
There would also be a Local Community Fund which would distribute finance annually to deserving projects within the communities where the wind farms are located. We have met over 100 community groups over the last two years who are interested in participating in this programme.
The Educational Fund would help finance educational initiatives for students in communities where wind farms are located. And the Local Enterprise Fund would foster local enterprise and employment creation through the support of small local businesses.
We propose a total investment of €250million into the Midlands by way of Community Benefit for a 3GW project. That could have quite an impact on the communities of the Midlands.
This €10million per year community benefit scheme added to €50million in rates and rent each year would see Element Power contribute a minimum total of €1.5billion to the local economy over the 25 year life-time of Greenwire.
The payment to local authorities in Offaly, Westmeath and Laois would amount to between 40% and 50% of the entire rates income which those counties presently enjoy. That’s a lot of additional services or it could also be used to create a reduction on the rates burden on hard pressed businesses by up to 50%.
In terms of the employment potential, the construction works required for up to 3,000 MWs of wind power as well as installing an electrical network underground can create approximately 10,000 construction jobs. The only way this project will be delivered is with locally sourced employees. It is normal procedure in Ireland that all balance of plant is sourced locally.
The CIF is already working with its members to ensure that they can harness the benefits of such an enormous construction project. It is more than just construction opportunities - Personnel with a range of different skills will be sought during pre-construction and actual construction of the project: ecologists, scientists, environmental engineers, mapping and GIS specialists, experts in acoustics, landscape architects, archaeologists and hydrologists.
Road construction companies, quarries and other building material suppliers, construction workers etc will be required to develop approximately 1,000 kilometres of road networks.
Civil and structural engineers, electrical and power engineers, geotechnical experts, transport and traffic engineers, wind assessment, wind analysts, monitoring and mast erection crews.
Logistics, travel, lodging and material supply generate significant additional local revenue over the three year construction period 2016 – 2019 meaning a spin-off for local shops, hotels, garages, construction companies, haulage firms, plant-hire operators and many other service providers.
Element Power is already working in the Midlands to raise awareness of the need for training courses to equip local people with the requisite skills. We are liaising with education providers to add modules to existing courses and develop conversion courses for already qualified persons.
Ireland already has a Wind Energy industry of almost 2000MW which currently employs 3,400 people and that is without any turbine manufacturing. We are aware of interest from major international players to develop manufacturing facilities in the Midlands should Greenwire and/or other projects proceed but the job of bringing them here is one which rests best with IDA Ireland.
Ireland has the potential to be involved even more significantly in the supply chain of the wind energy industry. Greenwire would act as the ‘enabler’ for Ireland to become a key player in this sector.
Window of Opportunity
However, if we’re to develop an export project in the Midlands and capitalise on this pioneering opportunity, we must act swiftly. The window won’t stay open indefinitely, Britain needs this renewable energy by 2020. If we are to embrace this opportunity, the Irish and UK Governments need to finalise a detailed Intergovernmental agreement quickly which will allow the trading of renewable energy between both jurisdictions. The Department of Energy has to complete a Strategic Environmental Assessment and the Department of the Environment has to conclude the new planning guidelines for wind energy swiftly. These are some of the key requirements from the Irish side. We also need strong signals and actions from the UK side such as cfd’s and a commercial strike price.
A project such as Greenwire cannot proceed without community support.
We have had positive engagement with hundreds of voluntary, sporting and community groups in the Midlands for the last two years.
We have more than 1,000 farming families in the Midlands who are anxious to see this project proceed.
The views of local communities should not be casually dismissed because their voices aren’t heard daily.
Several claims were made to this committee back on October 8th by a group from Westmeath. Many of these claims were not based on fact and present very clear evidence as to why much misunderstanding about the wind industry prevails.
Our investors aren’t in the business of backing projects which might prove injurious to local communities.
Only last week, I read in a Midlands newspaper that that there had been no proper consultation with locals. There has been significant consultation to date, we have held open days in each of the five counties, we have a team of people working on the ground daily whose job it is to meet people, to engage with them, to answer their questions. We have an office in Tullamore, a lo-call information line, a project website and I’d remind you, this project has a long way to go before it would become a reality.
We have distributed in excess of 40,000 newsletters with project information since launching in July 2012 and responded to more than 5,000 e-mails and answered 6,000 telephone calls in the same period.
Our company is currently assessing thousands of locations for suitability, we will eventually settle on a final list of proposed sites before going back to the public for another round of consultation. The input of the public is very important in this process and they will continue to have their say as part of a transparent planning system.
Greenwire is of course a private development. It will not cost the Irish taxpayer one single cent. We are proposing the creation of thousands of jobs and billions of euro by way of local spend by harnessing a natural resource. There will be no overhead lines, our infrastructure in Ireland and subsea cabling is completely independent of the Irish Grid. The cost of the electricity generated will be borne by the UK consumer.
While the cliché, ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ is sometimes over used, Greenwire does actually represent such a prospect. It is innovative, and it can place Ireland firmly at the forefront of the cleantech industry. Let us seize the moment and develop this new clean export industry.