Wind energy hub could create over 50,000 jobs

Updated: Wednesday, 27th June, 2012 5:30pm

Eddie O'Connor's company Mainstream Renewable Power opened an office in Edenderry this week.
Offaly is to become the centre of a Midlands renewable energy hub that will supply the UK with up to 5,000MW of wind energy within five years and create up to 54,000 jobs.
Founder of Mainstream Renewable Power Eddie O'Connor, who in the past headed up Airtricity and before that Bord na Móna, said last Tuesday at the opening of the company's Edenderry office that his company's plans will not be paid for by the Irish consumer, but that the benefits to Ireland will be "enormous".
Mainstream Renewable Power was established to develop wind and solar projects both onshore and offshore and is currently developing over 15,000MW of projects across seven countries in four different continents. Plans were unveiled for the company's latest project last Tuesday.
Speaking to the Offaly Independent Mr O'Connor said the majority of a planned wind park made up of hundreds of wind farms which will plug the UK's energy gap from 2017 will be based in Offaly. Mr O'Connor said up to 5,000 people will be employed in the construction phase of the project, while a further 500 will be permanently employed maintaining the wind farms. Thousands of further jobs will be created by related businesses according to Mr O'Connor, but he warned future job potential that could lead to up to €34m paid in council rates yearly will be down to local politics and residents working together and welcoming growth.
"I think what has to happen here is fundamentally a political question," he said. "I think the local people in Offaly have to make their views known." For his part, Mr O'Connor said his company will "do our bit".
The opening of Mainstream Renewable Energy's Edenderry office, which will act as a base for up to 13 Mainstream Renewable Energy staff, was welcomed by local politicians Noel Cribbin and Noel Bourke. Cllr Cribbin described the project as "massive", "mega" and "good news all round". "This thing has huge potential," he said. Meanwhile Cllr Bourke welcomed the new office and said it's good to see initiatives being located in Edenderry.
Mr O'Connor said Edenderry was chosen for the company's new office as the town is "the epicentre of where we'll be doing our main developments".
Negotiations with up to 900 landowners - of which half are needed to be successful in order for the project to proceed - are going well according to Mr O'Connor. "We have a highly trained staff who are good at explaining the benefits to people," he said. "We are able to assure people that when we give our word about something it is going to happen." Mr O'Connor also said he has faith in Offaly as a county used to working with energy. "I see the energy tradition of Offaly now being turned into an opportunity for the county to shine in a new scenario," he said, adding that he sees his company and Offaly growing together in the project.
Mr O'Connor said it's hoped planning permissions for the project will be in place by 2015, with construction to start in 2016. Sticking to this schedule will allow the company to begin exporting power to the UK in 2017.
At last Tuesday's launch Mr O'Connor described the move as unique. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Ireland and especially the Midlands: we're going to supply the UK with a big chunk of its electricity needs, generating €2.5bn per annum in revenue which is almost the same as our dairy exports last year," he said.
"Germany today creates eight direct jobs for each MW installed and then another two to three indirect jobs. We're talking about 5,000MW so we can realistically create 54,000 new jobs through manufacturing, construction and longterm operations and maintenance."
Mainstream Renewable Energy Development Manager for Ireland Diarmuid Twomey also highlighted the project's advantages. "We've spent the past year undertaking analysis to identify the most appropriate areas to site the onshore wind farms," he said. "These areas are already designated for wind farm development by the local authority, are in sparsely populated areas and have good wind speeds. We have identified about 900 eligible private landowners, half of which are required to make the project viable. A big advantage for farmers is that the land can continue to be used for farming purposes when the turbines are erected. Animals can continue to graze around them and crops can be sown right up to the base of the turbine, which occupies less than half an acre. This is an opportunity to generate a very substantial and guaranteed revenue stream over a 25 year period which will have minimal impact on the land, providing an additional revenue to future generations of farmers. There are strict guidelines in terms of where we can site the turbines, only in certain places according to the county development plan. Now that we have our office in Edenderry we'd like to invite people to drop in if they have any questions or even if they just want to know more about wind energy."
Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen has commended the project and the foresight of landowners who have granted access to their sites for the project.
"This project will guarantee a constant revenue stream for the midlands over the next 20 years and with spin-off jobs and industries set to spring from this, it represents a very exciting time for the economy in the midlands region," he said.