Bord na Móna plans to build a pilot solar energy farm in Offaly next year and is currently in talks with a number of potential development partners with the view to gaining a foothold in the burgeoning subsector of the new energy market.
Speaking after the renewable energy-focused semi-state utility’s AGM yesterday, Bord na Móna chief executive Mike Quinn said the company’s solar energy plans are at a “very early stage” but that the business “will definitely” build solar farms on its landbank in the midland counties in the coming years.
It has been reported that Bord na Móna had been talking to Lightsource Renewable Energy — the largest solar energy firm in the UK, which is understood to be looking to spend around €500m to develop solar farms in Ireland.
Mr Quinn confirmed that Bord na Móna has been, and continues to be, talking to “a number of parties” regarding the forming of a developmental partnership or joint-venture to progress its solar plans.
He said Bord na Móna is planning to launch a pilot solar farm project — as part of its new Mount Lucas windfarm in Offaly — next year. All solar energy generated from future projects will be used for the Irish market, with no energy export plans currently being mooted.
It is also understood that Coillte — the State-owned forestry body — has significant long-term solar energy plans. Both firms’ solar plans will remain separate and will not form part of their partial merger. Regarding that — which will see an overlap of their biomass, wind energy, and tourism strands — Mr Quinn said the deal should finalise towards the back end of 2016.
The inclusion of solar projects for government subsidies is expected to be a theme in the pending white paper on energy policy for the next 15 years.
“Our intent, over the coming years, is to optimise growth to become the leading player in every market that we operate, ensuring we are able to maintain current employment levels into the future, critical to the long-term future of the midland communities in which we operate,” Mr Quinn said.
Bord na Móna yesterday reported a near 7% drop in pre-tax profits for 2014 to €37.2m and a 2.2% drop in turnover to €417.4m. It saw operating profit grow by over 4% to €52.4m and it paid the State a dividend of €11.2m for the year. A loss of almost €8m was incurred on the termination of the group’s loss-making Anua environmental business.
At yesterday’s AGM, Mr Quinn highlighted carbon tax and carbon credit pricing, cross-border fuel trading, and the private sale of timber and turf as being “significant adverse impact” items on the company’s operating profit performance, adding that Bord na Móna currently faces “significant challenges”.
“The environment in which we operate is coming under increasing pressure, due to the lack of a level playing field,” he said.
He added that increased challenges will be faced over the medium term regarding the cost-effective supply of biomass to its Powergen business and to the ESB peat stations past 2019.
However, he stressed that “real opportunities” remain and the company is committed to building at least one windfarm per year.
The Mount Lucas windfarm, launched earlier this year, will provide energy for more than 45,000 homes.
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