Bord na Mona and the ESB are joining forces to develop four huge solar farms that are likely to cost in the region of €500m and generate sufficient electricity to power 150,000 homes.
The four solar farms – which will generate a total of 570 megawatts of electricity – will be based in counties Roscommon, Offaly and Kildare.
It marks Bord na Mona’s first foray into the solar energy market. The ESB already has a solar division, and last year unveiled plans to develop between 20 and 30 solar farms in Ireland. Last year, the ESB also invested €2.5m in Irish solar energy firm Terra Solar.
There are no commercial solar farms in operation here, although one opened in Northern Ireland last year. All Ireland’s commercial renewable power generation is currently sourced from wind.
There are a number of firms pursuing solar farm developments in Ireland, with dozens of planning applications for such facilities having been submitted to various county councils in the past couple of years.
The planned solar farms that will be built by the Bord na Mona-ESB joint venture will be located on peatlands that have already been fully harvested.
ESB CEO Pat O’Doherty said that the company’s relationship with Bord na Mona “spans decades”.
“This new partnership – with the potential to power 150,000 homes and businesses – reinforces our confidence in solar to help Ireland meet its carbon reduction targets beyond 2020,” he said.
The two semi-State companies have each stumped up €5m to kick-start the venture.
The CEO of Bord na Mona, Mike Quinn, said that community consultation will be at the “heart of the project”. “The solar industry, although in its infancy here in Ireland, has the potential to form an important part of Ireland’s future energy mix in the medium to long term,” he said.
However, the partnership could face planning hurdles.
While some solar farms here have secured planning, some planning inspectors have recommended against permission being granted for others because of a lack of national guidelines on solar farm development.
It’s been estimated that there are more than 600MW of solar farm developments in Ireland that have already been approved or are on appeal.
A planning inspector reviewing an application to construct a 17MW solar farm in Co Wexford recently noted that there has been a “wave” of applications for such developments around the country. An Bord Pleanála had also refused an application by the same company for another planned Co Wexford solar farm that would have been the country’s biggest, at 45MW.
“However, there is no spatial strategy or strategic plan to direct such important renewable energy development to appropriate locations at either a national, a regional or a local level,” she said.
Planning applications for the solar farms the ESB-Bord na Mona joint-venture plans to develop are likely to be submitted towards the end of the year.
The Environmental Protection Agency predicted last week that Ireland won’t meet its 2020 legally-binding greenhouse emissions targets. That could mean Ireland will face paying hundreds of millions of euroto buy carbon credits.
An improving economy has raised emissions, as more traffic hits the roads and industrial and agricultural output rises.