CASTLEBAR, Ireland, May 7 (UPI) -- Transmission system operator EirGrid has announced a $314 million program to upgrade Western Ireland's network with the aim of exporting "green" energy.
EirGrid Chief Executive Dermot Byrne introduced the project Friday in Castlebar, County Mayo, in an event attended by Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte and other political leaders, who talked up the potential of exporting wind, wave and tidal energy to Britain.
Byrne said the project, known as Grid West, is part of a larger, nationwide effort called Grid25, which seeks the upgrading of Ireland's transmission capabilities to accommodate the country's "access to a secure and competitive energy supply."
"This major initiative will put in place a safe, secure and affordable electricity supply throughout Ireland," Byrne said. "It is a major undertaking which will take several years and represents an investment of ($4.2 billion).
"The Grid West project is the one of the largest single Grid25 projects and the most significant in the west, initially accounting for ($314 million) of the investment earmarked for the region."
Kenny said that under the Grid West plan, a pair of 400-kilovolt transmission lines would be built linking Bellacorick in County Mayo to Cashla in County Galway and Flagford in County Roscommon in a move to tap Western Ireland's "huge" renewable energy potential.
"The West of Ireland is particularly rich in renewable energy resources and has the potential for much job creation," Kenny said. "Harnessing and exploiting this resource for Ireland will require detailed planning involving high levels of engagement between communities and EirGrid that will allow the construction of critical infrastructure for the benefit of the West and for Ireland."
Rabbitte said planning applications under Ireland's Strategic Infrastructure Act are expected in 2015, The Irish Times reported.
The energy minister said he disagreed with critics who say the grid upgrades are ill-timed because the ongoing economic recession is depressing demand for power.
"The abundance of renewable resources on our western seaboard holds the promise for us to actually achieve the huge challenge of moving away from fossil fuels in the longer term," he said. "Investment decisions for the necessary trans-European infrastructure up to 2030 must be taken now, as a significant amount of older generation plant will need to be replaced and more interconnected transmission systems need to be developed."
Also on the horizon is the promise of Britain as a potential customer of green Irish energy at a time when that nation is facing the ends of the useful lives of some of its fossil-fuel and nuclear generating plants.
"We are in discussions with the British government," Rabbitte told the newspaper. "It hasn't happened in this fashion between two member states of the European Union before. A prerequisite is an intergovernmental agreement and we are working on the elements of that."
Dublin in addition to the Grid25 program is working on "essential" north-south transmission reinforcements and the completion of an east-west interconnector, which will link its electric system with that of Britain's.
Ireland's national goal is to meet 40 percent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, including wind, wave and tidal energy. The government and EirGrid say the existing transmission infrastructure in the region needs "substantial investment" to accommodate West of Ireland's "increasing levels of renewable generation."