HALF a billion euro is to be invested in Ireland’s electricity sector by the European Union’s bank.
The massive loan will help construct around 10 new wind farms around the country and part-fund the east-west interconnector due to link the electricity grids of Ireland and Britain.
Energy Minister Eamon Ryan said the investment by the European Investment Bank (EIB) was about the future of Ireland’s energy supply and not the upcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum.
“We are transforming energy policy in Ireland and today’s investment will propel this transformation,” said Mr Ryan.
“I look forward to the completion of these projects. We are well on the road to Ireland becoming world leader in green energy and the fight against climate change.”
A total of €300m will be given to EirGrid to support the Ireland Wales electricity Interconnector, which got the go-ahead in recent weeks. The 260km underwater cable will link Rush, north Co Dublin, and Barkby beach in north Wales bringing power to 300,000 homes.
Meanwhile, the €200m loan to ESB will take the number of wind farms around the country to 17.
The loans, to be repaid over 25 and 12 years respectively, bring total EIB support for Ireland to €760m this year.
The contract was signed in Dublin Castle by EIB vice-president Plutarchos Sakellaris. Mr Sakellaris shrugged off suggestions the funding announcement was timed to coincide with Friday’s referendum.
“If you’re saying why didn’t we sign it after the Lisbon Treaty, I say the earlier the better for the Irish economy.”
He stressed the Ireland Wales connector was identified as a key project in the European Economic Recovery Plan endorsed by EU leaders last year.
“Ireland is very dependent on imported fossil fuels but has huge potential for wind power,” he said. “Both these projects help Ireland in its ambition to go green and secure future energy supplies, helping Europe as a whole meet its climate change goals.”
EirGrid chief executive Dermot Byrne said the investment package was a major milestone for Ireland’s electricity infrastructure and for the power market.
Meanwhile, ESB’s Padraig McManus said the firm was engaged in major investment in renewable energy to realise its ambition of becoming carbon-neutral by 2035.
“By 2020, one-third of ESB’s generation will be wind-based,” he added.
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