MOUNT LUCAS, Ireland, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Ireland this week hailed the groundbreaking on a wind farm project in the Midlands region as an example of how to diversify the country's energy mix.
Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, officials of the Irish state-owned heating and energy group Bord na Mona and others gathered Monday at Mount Lucas in County Offaly, about 50 miles west of Dublin, to inaugurate construction on the $180 million project.
"I congratulate Bord na Mona on its development of this key project, which will underpin the company's diversification strategy, support Ireland's energy policy objectives and demonstrate the potential which the Midlands has for the development of significant renewable energy projects," Rabbitte said.
The effort will result in 150 construction jobs, he added.
Bord na Mona, which operates a wind farm at Bellacorick in County Mayo, is building the 30-turbine, 80-megawatt facility at a milled peat production area, which it has been operating since the 1950s.
The company obtained planning permission for the project last year despite the objections of some local residents and a grid connection offer has been signed with Irish transmission system operator EirGrid allowing it to be connected to the national grid.
When completed the new wind farm will provide renewably sourced electricity for up to 50,000 Irish households, Rabbitte said.
"The need to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels through exploitation of our renewable and efficiency resources has never been greater," the minister declared. "Here in Ireland we have an abundance of renewable energy, with particular potential in the onshore wind sector and it is vital that we continue to exploit this potential."
Perhaps Mount Lucas' greatest value, he said, is that it will help in Ireland's efforts to produce green energy for export to the British market.
Rabbitte and former British counterpart Charles Hendry this summer agreed on a formal memorandum of understanding on renewable energy trading between the countries, which was included in the coalition government's Energy Bill, published Nov. 29.
It lays the foundation for the Greenwire project, a proposed $10.5 billion energy infrastructure project to develop and build 3,000 megawatts of onshore wind farms in the Irish Midlands and connect them directly to the British electricity grid via undersea links.
Under the Greenwire plans, energy generated by wind farms in the Midlands would be routed to a regional collector node, transferred by underground cables to the Irish east coast and then to Britain via specially built undersea cables.
The formal memorandum between the Irish and British governments is expected to be published before Christmas.
The idea of importing green energy from a substantially beefed-up Irish wind farm sector is gaining support among British Conservative Party ministers was well as Tory backbenchers in Parliament, who see it was a way around fervent and growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the British countryside, The Independent reported.
Wind energy has the potential to create 30,000 jobs by 2020, the Irish Wind Energy Association contends.
Kenneth Matthews, the group's chief executive praised the Mount Lucas project Monday.
"Ireland can meet its domestic targets for 2020 but also has an opportunity to become a renewable electricity exporter of scale before 2020 and this project advances these goals considerably," he said.
"This project also sends a very strong signal to investors globally that Ireland is a country committed to the development of wind energy."