Sunday, 18 March 2018

Media Hypocrisy on Leo's Wind Farm Gaffe

By Owen Martin

Image result for leo varadkar failte ireland
The email Leo Varadkar sent to Failte Ireland

There was much consternation in the media over Leo Varadkar's wind farm "gaffe" at the White House where he boasted that he rang the local council and managed to stop a wind farm from being built beside Trump's golf resort in County Clare. There was talk of cronyism and political favors. The facts turned out to be different. Varadkar, then the tourism minister, emailed the tourist board Failte Ireland advising that they make a submission on the development. Failte Ireland make submissions on planning applications all the time, including on wind farms. If one thinks logically about it, how could a tourist board not oppose a wind farm in a tourist region ? The only issue is should they really need prompting from a minister to know that a wind farm might damage tourism in an area

Compare the outrage from the media about Varadkar's comments to the appeasement when the Government announced they would change the planning rules to facilitate large multinationals by taking rights away from objectors to data centres (see here). Here, the government is not as much interfering in the planning system, but radically changing it to favour developers. There was no outcry from the media. There was no rally call to defend the rights of citizens. Suddenly, the concept of equality took a backseat to expediency and the latest fad of the day. 

In January of this year, the Irish Courts determined that An Bord Pleanala (the main planning authority in Ireland) must, in relation to European Union Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) :

    act as a clearing-house or framework coordinator for the development consent process. It is not a role that requires any substantive decisions to be taken regarding the acceptability of a proposed development  [Martin Vs An Bord Pleanala].

In other words, once the European Commission decides something needs to be built, the planning authorities in Ireland must approve it. The High Court also ruled that "it is not the function of An Bord Plean├íla to review government policy or to consider public submissions in relation to government policy. 

Once again, this ruling, which effectively limits the rights of citizens to challenge government and EU decisions, was ignored by the media. This is the kind of environment where cronyism thrives unchallenged and unhindered. Objections to developments based on logic and evidence can be easily dismissed. 

An independent and effective planning system is simply not possible with the current system, let alone with the system that is being planned to facilitate data centres. If the rights of citizens were protected in the planning system, then there wouldn't be any problem with cronyism or political favors as the system would have to take account of facts, evidence, transparency and due legal process.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Blackouts Probably A Greater Threat to Northern Ireland Than Brexit

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is currently in the process of carrying out an inquiry into it's long neglected Electricity Sector. I have been highlighting the issues in the North since 2015. Things are now coming to a head. 

There is an interesting and worrying submission made by AES, the owners of Kilroot and Ballylumford coal powered stations.


  • Since the publication of the provisional results on 20th December 2017, two key questions have been asked of UREGNI and SONI:

  • Where will Northern Ireland get the equivalent energy when the Kilroot coal units and the Ballylumford B station unit close?
  • What will the cost of this additional energy be, assuming it can be obtained when required?

  • To date AES is not aware that these key questions have been answered, and is only aware that what has been stated publicly is that SONI believes that sufficient “capacity” has been procured in the T-1 process.

  • Despite the unconsulted upon change in constraint rules, actual dispatch of Kilroot from 5 January to 10 February inclusive was such that when the Kilroot units have been available and the NI demand has gone above 1400 MW, at least one Kilroot unit has been on 96% of the time. In the context of the I-SEM go-live date on 23 May and the expected removal of Kilroot’s coal units due to the results of the T-1 capacity auction, AES would question the discrepancy in approach to load centre stability between Belfast and cities in the South. We would encourage the publication of the technical assessment carried out to determine that the Kilroot coal units are not required, so it could be compared to the October 2017 declaration of Kilroot’s criticality.

  • Further in parallel with this publication, SONI and the UR should outline (i) details of the clear rationale for the change to their proposed operation regime, (ii) details of the risk assessment carried out to ensure they were not taking on any increased level of risk in how they operate the NI electricity system on behalf of Northern Ireland electricity consumers without such consumers being fully aware of, consulted with, and comfortable with, any potential additional risk.

There is a requirement for three power stations to be on load at all times in the region to keep the grid stable. Two of those are Kilroot and Ballylumford. If they close down, blackouts are a certainty for Northern Ireland. What will the cost be to the economy there as industry is forced to shut down or depend on their own off grid electricity sources ?

The media are focused completely on the impact of Brexit and the Irish border on the North's economy. But in the end, it may well turn out that political decisions made about their electricity sector will have the most adverse impact. Perhaps then, people will wish they discussed this issue a lot more.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Interconnector Fault Causes Problems for Wind Farms During Beast from the East

As the "Beast from the East" hit Ireland on the 28th February, things were looking good for wind farmers. The east winds were predictable and constant, unlike the variable westerlies that hit Ireland most of the time. Wind energy became baseload power for the first time on the Irish grid. On the 1st March, the capacity factor for wind was 80%, a power output normally reserved for coal or gas generation. However, a problem occurred on the morning of the 28th. The interconnector to the UK (East West interconnector) tripped out. This meant that surplus wind generation could no longer be exported to the UK. High amounts of wind generation would have to switched off or "curtailed".

Wind generation and forecasted wind during Beast from the East. Note how accurate the forecast was
with one notable exception (see later)

East West interconnector fault on 28th February

A further problem happened on the 2nd March as the storm reached it's peak. Power cuts became a frequent event. Power cuts are inevitable of course during storms and periods of extremely high winds, which is very unfortunate for wind farmers as demand for their product, electricity, is reduced just when their supply is at it's highest. In fact, over the four or five days of the "Beast", demand was relatively normal. This is in stark contrast to the Big Freeze event of 2010 where demand reached over 5,000MW (and wind generation was abnormally low). During the Beast, demand reached a high of about 4,600MW on the 28th February. The periods of highest winds (1st - 3rd march) saw demand reach only 4,200MW.

Demand all time peak 2010 Vs Demand during Beast from the East 2018

Power cuts on the 2nd March

 On 1st March, wind energy was generating about 59% of the total electricity production, one of the highest penetrations ever. However, by the next day, as power cuts became widespread, wind energy was been curtailed by as much as 45%. Nearly 1,200MW of wind was been shut down at 4am. 

The period from 1st to 2nd March was when the storm was at it's most intense in Ireland. 
Wind curtailment can therefore be calculated as the difference between forecast wind and actual wind. 
Forecast wind generation was actually equal to demand at times.
The frequency of electricity, normally static at 50Hz, became erratic during the storm as the grid
operator struggled to manage high wind penetrations. This is from the 2nd March.

Had the interconnector been in operation, 500MW of this surplus wind could have been exported.  Demand, in fact, dropped by 10% on the 2nd March compared with the day before, presumably due to the power cuts. 

These are problems that will only intensify as more wind capacity is added and more and more generators are looking to get a piece of the demand "pie". Interconnectors, like storage, seem like an easy solution in theory, but in practice things are often different. 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Are wind farms financially viable into the future ?

Loss making wind farm sells for € 22 million

Lisdowney wind farm in Co.Kilkenny is quite small at 9MW but it sold for a whopping 22.5 million last week to Greencoat Renewables. Although the company is solvent, the published accounts show it made a loss in 2017 of € 262,000 and € 59,000 the previous year. The accumulated losses now stand at €374,000. “This acquisition is in line with our strategy of acquiring high-quality wind farms in the Republic of Ireland, ” said Greencoat Capital.

There are signs that the days of lucrative profits for wind farm companies may be over. Gaelectric, one of the largest renewable companies in the country, are winding down and laying off staff. Windfarms owned by SSE Airtricity are also in financial difficulties. According to published accounts, Gartnaneane wind farm in Cavan and Meentycat in Donegal are both insolvent i.e. unable to pay their debts as they fall due. The financial statements state that both companies "are dependent on ongoing financial support from a fellow group company". Airtricity claims to provide 100% green energy to Irish homes, although quite how it separates the green electrons from the gas and coal generated electrons in the grid remains a mystery. 

The National Development Plan for 2040 states that ESB, Bord na Mona and Coillte are currently planning to invest in renewable energy technologies. These companies have about 15% of the overall operational wind farm fleet in the State. They plan to continue to invest, predominantly in wind generation, over the coming years.  

Derrybrien wind farm, one of the largest in Ireland, and owned by ESB made losses last year. Should these state run companies still be investing in unprofitable ventures ?

Liam Halligan points out in the Spectator that the era of easy money may be over and that it's no bad thing. Is there a big crunch on the way for wind farm companies ?
Ultra-low rates have also kept thousands of ‘zombie’ companies alive, so we have firms able only to pay debt-interest rather than clear actual debts. Around a quarter of a million struggling UK firms are in this situation, kept on life support by unnaturally low rates. Unable to invest and expand, they tie up resources that should be channelled into healthier firms. This helps to explain the low productivity and wages that have cursed the UK economy in the past ten years.

Monday, 19 February 2018

National Development Plan Short on Sums

Last week, the Government announced their plans for long term infrastructure spending that we, the already overtaxed taxpayer, will have to pay for. As is usual with these big PR events, they are big on glossy brochures but short on facts and critical analysis. Somehow the cognitive dissonance of Ministers announcing investments in airports while at the same time allocating €22bn to help fight "climate change" was lost on most of our media.

In this article, Pat Swords explores one part of the plan - electric cars.

This week our 'rulers' announced their plan for 2040. Let's just focus on one 'trendy' aspect:
So lets look at some simple sums, not a strong point of our glorious rulers, but relevant for plans which are meaningful and don't end up as an awful mess. To put the above into perspective, the CSO figures tell us that we have some 2 million cars in this so called 'Republic'. I accept that if one has enough money to buy a top range Tesla, one gets a 100 kWh battery pack, which on a good day can do something close to 400 km. This is what one is entitled to expect from what is a 'car' after all. However, the problem is when one needs to recharge it, as a domestic house is typically only set up for 7 kWh. So if you turn off all your other electrical appliances and wait 14 hours, you'll be ready to go again. Not very practical is it?

However, not to despair as they are going to build out new charging infrastructure for us instead. Well that 100 kWh battery may theoretically be 'supercharged' in something like 30 minutes, but let's assume that such a charging point can charge three such Teslas in an hour. This means that it has to deliver 300 kWh in an hour equivalent to 0.3 MW. So if we build a thousand of these, we then need a 300 MW power station to supply them. By international standards, this is a medium sized power station, which would be comfortably able to cover 10% of the average demand currently on the Irish grid. 

So in simple terms if you want to be able to charge 3,000 electric cars in an hour, which is only 0.15% of the number of cars out there, you need a new 300 MW power plant, which is a large enough to cover 10% of the current country's demand. It's pretty obvious that unless you string up the country with new power stations and pylons, none of this is going to work, unless the public is prepared to spend a lot of their hard earned cash on electrical vehicles, which they will just have to park most of the time, as they don't have the hours to stand in line, awaiting an opportunity to get a charge in at one of these new 'charging infrastructures'. 

This is actually some pretty basis stuff and you would think that before they go off announcing their grandiose plans, they would have thought about it first. After all the data is published and readily available, such as from the SEAI's annual publications:

Transport uses some 42% of energy consumed in Ireland, more than double that which goes into electricity generation. If that energy demand is to be switched from fossil fueled vehicles to electric vehicles, then the electricity infrastructure we have would need to be more than doubled, even allowing for the fact, that the current grid is somewhat lightly loaded at night. Think about this one, you get an allocated slot to drive your Tesla to the new charging infrastructure to hook it up between 2.30 and 3.00 am - is this progress?.

And what of the alleged CO2 savings ? 
If you were to buy a Fiat Punto, which does 120 g of CO2 per km, you could drive it for nearly 170,000 km before you would have emitted the same 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

When one does simple sums, none of this makes the slightest sense, not least as to the why? We don't have an urban air pollution problem in our cities and the weather is just doing its own thing, claims of weather doomsdays are just wild speculation and with each increasing year it is clearly obvious how wildly speculative those claims are. So in essence electric vehicles are a trendy solution to a problem, which has never been assessed and quantified and actually doesn't currently exist. So why do we end up with this dysfunctionality? After all the Government's own procedures highlight:
  • Regulations and their implementation often result in considerable costs to the public service, to citizens and to businesses. It is important that these costs are taken into account.  Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) is a tool to assess the likely effects of a proposed new regulation and involves a detailed analysis to:
  • (i) ascertain whether or not the new regulation would have the desired impact and
  • (ii) to identify the costs and benefits associated with the regulation.

Can't find a Regulatory Impact Analysis for this Project Ireland 2040 and above announced regulatory changes with respect to vehicles in Ireland. However, there was a Strategic Environmental Assessment completed for this Project Ireland 2040, but there is no assessment in it at all with respect to what has now been adopted above with regard to electric vehicles:

Theoretically the Lisbon Treaty, which we voted for, states in its Article 3 that we have a  right to a "highly competitive social market economy". As far as I'm concerned, what car I choose to buy is my business and why should I be dictated to by some barmy ideological politician? I would also recommend that one spend some time talking to older Eastern Europeans about the 45 years they spent behind the Iron Curtain and subject to the rigours of a planned economy there. This whole proposal is an outrageous abuse. It is not the State's entitlement or function to intervene in the free market in this manner, not least as it doesn't have a single scrap of analysis to justify the position it has now adopted. 

After all oil in 2014 was $110 a barrel and due to the technology advances brought on by fracking, has reduced to a value consistently around $55. While we have not seen all of that benefit, due to the degree of tax on these fuels, we have seen quite a benefit due to the market forces, which control supply and demand of this energy source. On the other hand, the electricity market in Europe is totally distorted by political intervention, costs have soared out of control and we saw how recently Viridian with two perfectly good power stations in Dublin simply decided to walk away from them, as the electricity market place is such a distorted mess here. So why on earth would anybody in their right mind want to be forced by the State to buy a vehicle, for which the facilities to refuel it are completely inadequate and the fuel supply is from a completely distorted market place lacking in transparency and demonstrating no shortage of political interference? In other words cronyism and a lack of accountability, which is breeding corruption.  

Friday, 9 February 2018

Wind Farm that caused huge landslide makes losses for ESB

Photo : Irish Examiner

The Commission claims also that the construction of the wind farm required the destruction of large areas of coniferous forest amounting to 263 hectares.
 The Commission adds that, after the landslide which occurred on 16 October 2003 and the consequent ecological disaster, when the mass of peat which was dislodged from an area under development for the wind farm polluted the Owendalulleegh river, causing the death of about 50 000 fish and lasting damage to the fish spawning beds, Ireland carried out no fresh environmental impact assessment of this construction before the resumption of work on the site by the developer in 2004 [European Court Ruling 2008].

The construction of Derrybrien wind farm in 2003 caused a huge landslide resulting in the ecological disaster described above by the European Courts of Justice. Ten years later, Ireland still has not complied with their ruling and the EU are now seeking to impose fines on Ireland of €2 million.  

The wind farm was the largest in Europe at the time with 70 vestas turbines (of 0.85MW each) giving a total output of 59.5MW. It began operation in 2006. Ten years later in 2016, the accounts show that the wind farm was making a loss of €2.3 million. Turnover dropped by 25% to €5m and operating costs increased by 17% to €6.3m from 2015.  The company is owned by ESB and €20m in loans are still outstanding to them. It cost €64m to build. 

The above graph compares the load factor (actual output / maximum output) for Derrybrien and the national average as published by Eirgrid since 2010. The load factor has dropped significantly in the past two years to 23% in 2016, which was less than the national average of 28%. Not great for a wind farm located in the windy west of Ireland.  It could be that these particular wind turbines lose capacity over time. The first indication of a loss in capacity occurred in 2015 after eight years of operation. The national average was high at 33% whilst Derrybrien had a load factor 20% less at 26%. 

A loss of wind turbine capacity means higher maintenance costs and this is reflected in the accounts where operating costs have increased to €6.3m from €5.4m in 2016.   

The obvious question that needs to be asked about all this is are the massive environmental impact of wind farms built in such delicate areas worth it ? Whilst ESB will probably absorb  these losses who finally pays ? ESB is 95% owned by the Government

National Load Factors - Page 24 here.

Load factors for Derrybrien wind farm for 2015 and 2016 as per published accounts, other years were estimated based on annual turnovers.