Lack of legislation sees clean energy firm quit State

An Irish company that had signed up to a deal with ESB in 2010 to develop 50 megawatts of geothermal electricity in Ireland has abandoned its plans — and the country — because the Government has not yet legislated to support the clean energy technology.

Dublin-based GT Energy announced last month that it will build the UK’s biggest geothermal plant, which will heat 7m homes in Manchester, in a move praised by UK energy minister Greg Barker as “exactly the sort of innovative green project we want to see sprouting up across the country”.

Geothermal energy, which taps underground heat, can be used to provide heat or electricity.

The Manchester project is part of a £100m (€126.9m) collaboration with German utility E.ON to develop five geothermal heating systems in north-west England, a plan set to bring hundreds of construction jobs to one of the most deprived regions in Britain.

GT Energy received planning permission in Jan 2011 for Ireland’s first geothermal electricity plant, a 4mw facility in Newcastle, Co Dublin, which would create 100 jobs during construction and employ 10 people permanently. But the plan, as well as a technology partnership agreement with ESB to develop many more geothermal electricity plants around Ireland, has been mothballed.

“We’re still looking at geothermal electricity development in the UK, but not in Ireland,” GT Energy managing director Padraig Hanly said.

The UK’s financial support for geothermal heat and electricity development, through schemes similar to that Ireland uses to support wind energy, is crucial for the development of the geothermal sector there, he added.

“There would be no industry without these supports. It’s the complete opposite in Ireland where no support exists. Legislation was due out in 2009; now it’s due in 2012 and now we’re hearing it could be 2013. So nothing is happening even though it’s in the programme for government,” Mr Hanly said.

Legislation that would allow deep geothermal development in Ireland remains to be finalised, two years since the previous government submitted the outline of a geothermal energy bill to the attorney general’s office for detailed drafting.

For large-scale investment to take place, geothermal needs to be licensed by the same way that the extraction of other natural resources like oil and gas are, said Gareth Jones, of the Geothermal Association of Ireland.

“If you’re thinking of investing €500m in a deep geothermal plant you need the security that someone isn’t going to come along to the next field and tap that same supply. The bill deals with the minister giving out licences.”

“It’s quite frustrating because it was almost through when the last government fell. We are hopeful but we’re concerned it hasn’t come off the shelf in the attorney general’s office.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy confirmed that drafting of the bill is “ongoing” and does not cover financial support for geothermal.

“It is understood that, even in the absence of legislation in this area, a number of projects have been able to proceed,” she said.

There are a number of small-scale, shallow geothermal heat plants in Ireland, including four of 1mw capacity each. Unbeknown to shoppers at Athlone Shopping Centre and at IKEA in north Dublin, geothermal plants exist in the grounds of both, while University College Cork and Galway Mayo Institute of Technology are also partly heated by geothermal energy.

An analysis of Ireland’s geothermal resources last year, funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, noted that 42 warm springs are concentrated in two areas: the Mallow area and west Dublin/North Kildare.

Unlike other forms of renewable energy like wind and solar, geothermal electricity plants can provide a steady supply of power, although often on a smaller scale.


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