UK to outflank objectors with wind farms in Ireland

  • @oliver_wright

Ministers are investigating a proposal to outsource the production of wind power to Ireland.

Faced with fervent and growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK, Tory MPs are backing a plan to site those facilities in Ireland – and then export the renewable energy generated back to Britain using cables running under the Irish Sea, to Wales.

A company has already sourced land to build more than 700 turbines in countryside to the west of Dublin. They would have the capacity to supply power for more than three million homes by the end of the decade – the equivalent of 10 per cent of the UK's renewable energy targets.

More importantly, such a development could take the pressure off the need for many more wind farms in the British countryside and save David Cameron from the wrath of his backbenchers who are in revolt at the Government's current plans. The scheme, called Greenwire, is the brainchild of an American company called Element Power.

It says it has already got the backing of the Irish government for its scheme, which could be up and running by 2018.

It says the Irish have a less reactionary attitude to onshore wind turbine developments than the British and points out that it would provide significant economic developments to the republic, while solving the UK Government's political conundrum. "From the Tory side, this is something that addresses their concerns about further onshore wind farm development, while at the same time bringing them closer to green growth," said Mike O'Neill, the president of Element Power. "And in Ireland people appear to be less concerned about the construction of wind farms and place greater emphasis on the economic growth they can bring."

So far the sticking point appears to be the need for British ministers to agree with their Irish counterparts that renewable energy generated in Ireland can count towards the UK's renewable energy targets.

Earlier this year the Irish Energy Minister, Pat Rabbitte, and his UK counterpart, Charles Hendry, agreed a formal Memorandum of Understanding on renewable energy trading between the two countries to be in place by the end of the year. Such an agreement would need to be written into the Energy Bill currently going through Parliament.

The company has met Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, and this week will meet a series of Tory ministers and MPs to press its case.

Coalition tensions over green issues have increased since last month's reshuffle. Owen Patterson, who has campaigned against wind farms in his own constituency, is believed to have clashed with Mr Davey on Coalition policy.

It comes after more than 100 Conservative backbenchers wrote to the Prime Minister earlier this year demanding he "dramatically cut" the £400m in annual subsidies paid to onshore wind developers.

But what is yet untested is the reaction of the Irish people to the plan. Wind may be an unlimited resource but the countryside is not and some experts predict resentment of what could be perceived as a fresh British land-grab.