Work to commence on Munster solar farms

Solar farms around Ireland are to become commonplace, with more than 20 planned for Munster
Work to commence on Munster solar farms

The contracts guarantee a fixed price for the electricity that is generated over the next 16 years. Picture: Tim Ireland/PA

Construction work is set to begin over the coming months on more than 20 solar farms across Munster putting the province at the forefront of the technology in Ireland.

Earlier this month the Government announced the results of its first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) were 19 wind farms and 63 solar energy projects won contracts.

The contracts guarantee a fixed price for the electricity that is generated over the next 16 years.

Cork company Amaranco won eight of the solar projects and the company’s CEO John Mullins says this latest development will put Munster at the cutting edge of renewable energy in Ireland.

Other solar projects emerged victorious in the region including an additional four in Cork, one in Kerry, one in Limerick, four in Waterford and four in Tipperary. Two wind energy projects were won in Co Clare.

All the projects have a minimum size of 0.5MW, have planning permission in place and offer or agreement to connect to the grid.

Mr Mullins said Amaranco is currently recruiting so the company can move on its projects which will see over 300 people employed in the construction of the solar farms.

It has taken Amaranco over five years to get to this stage, but despite this, Mr Mullins remains confident that “2,500MW of renewable energy can be generated in this country over the next five years”.

“We started developing in 2014 and got our first planning permission in Waterford in 2015 so it has taken a good five years to get to the point whereby all these are in auction,” he told the Irish Examiner.

“All of our eight plants are Co Cork and we are expecting to start building them from springtime.

As a result of the auction, you will see over 600MW of wind and 760MW of solar and it does look like between now and when off-shore wind comes in, solar is going to be the dominant renewable energy going forward.

Mr Mullins went on to say that while wind energy is “competitive” there is more scope with solar because the price of solar modules have come down very significantly in the last five years along with the equipment. “The price will continue to reduce over the next couple of years I think,” he added.

“For us, we have eight plants in Co Cork that we are now looking to finance with a bank; we are also starting to recruit people now. I have a position for a project manager on Linkedin and so far I have received 130 applications from people all over the world.” 

“The south east and Munster are key positions - the best sites are closer to the coast, the furthest north-west we have in this round is Kanturk and the furthest south would be Timoleague.

“For now the focus will be on solar energy; it will be 2025 before off-shore wind energy comes on board.

“Generally speaking when it comes to off-shore wind, they have to be very large projects and have large transmission connections, so solar is quite definitely going to fill the gap until off-shore wind is permitted and built.

“I think there could be 2,500MW in the next five years and you could see four times the amount in the auction - built across the country.” 

Further RESS auctions will be held at frequent intervals throughout the lifetime of the scheme and form part of plans to set a 70% target for renewable electricity in Ireland by 2030

“The 82 projects and the volumes procured set us on the right trajectory to achieve the ambitious 70% renewable electricity target by 2030 set out in the Programme for Government and the Climate Action Plan,” a spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment, said.

This will be crucial to Ireland’s contribution towards an EU wide renewable energy target of 32% by 2030 and to the 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030.

“The Programme for Government, ‘Our Shared Future’ recognises the importance of community involvement in energy projects and the first RESS auction includes mandatory community benefit funds for all projects as well as a dedicated community projects category.

“The community benefit fund under RESS-1 will deliver approximately €4.5m a year to sustainable community initiatives targeted at those communities living in close proximity to the RESS-1 projects.

“Additional community policies and supports are specified in the State Aid including: financial support for community-led projects, mandatory community benefit funds, investment opportunities for communities and citizens, and additional community categories for future RESS auctions.”

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