Eddie O'Connor, the 'Green' Bill Gates is developing a massively ambitious €12.5bn plan to export electricity from to the power starved UK.
The gigantic project could see the creation of up to 40,000 jobs in the largest infrastructure development seen in the country since the electrification of Ireland in the 1930s.
"We see this as a massive opportunity to supply Britain. This is a one-off opportunity," he told the Sunday Independent. Ireland is on target to meet mandatory levels of renewable energy by 2020, but Britain looks as if it will fall a long way short unless it takes drastic action.
Exporting electricity produced by vast windfarms to the UK would see David Cameron's government able to meet the strict 2020 targets.
Last week Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte, and his English counterpart Charles Hendry signed a memorandum of understanding which may pave the way for the export of electricity from Ireland to the UK.
O'Connor's Mainstream Renewable Power has a serious track record in developing major windfarm projects. The company was formed after O'Connor sold his previous business, Airtricity, to SSE for €1.1bn in January 2008. Airtricity's North American operations had earlier been snapped up by E.ON for €1bn in 2007.
Mainstream's plan is to create a network of windfarms in the midlands, which will be joined together through underground cabling to a series of hubs. The electricity will then be exported to the UK via an undersea cable.
Some €2.5bn worth of power could be zapped over to the UK each year under O'Connor's scheme -- a larger export market than the entire dairy sector, he said.
Ireland's peak demand for electricity is about 4,500 megawatts. "We've already booked 5,000 megawatts on the UK grid," he said.
This has involved an initial outlay of over €500,000 from Mainstream, which has already spent close to €1m planning and developing the landmark project.
Estimates from other windpower-producing countries have shown that about eight jobs per megawatt are created by major projects. This could lead to nearly 40,000 jobs in construction and operations under Mainstream's 'Energy Bridge' project.
Some 400 wind turbines will need to be constructed for the project, which may see huge special factories built in Ireland.
O'Connor plans to export the first electricity to the UK in 2017, ramping up to full capacity as the network of wind farms is built out.
Funding the scheme may need up to €12.5bn according to O'Connor, who has already raised more than €250m from investors for various Mainstream Renewable projects. He told the Sunday Independent that financing would become available from "large pension funds" once power purchase agreements are in place.
"Mainstream won't own 100 per cent of this. There is room for other players, such as grid people. We'll do the connection part but we don't need to own things like the nodes," he said.
"We have talked to a lot of people and we have found them very willing."
European funding is an avenue that will be pursued, with the green pioneer pointing to the €160m granted to Eirgrid by Europe for its east-west connector. "Only a silly person would ignore the role of China in this.
"The development stage funding will have to be put in place," O'Connor, said, adding that Mainstream was looking to raise at least €10m in coming months.
The company is moving ahead with plans to float in 2014, although O'Connor conceded "we might bring it forward".
- Nick Webb
Monday, June 25, 2012
New O'Connor plan may lead to 40,000 jobs - Independent.ie