) - A 7 billion pound ($10.9 billion) project to produce wind power in Ireland for export to Britain took a major step forward on Tuesday when the UK's National Grid approved connection of two Irish power cables to the British network.
The Greenwire project, which could create 3,000 permanent jobs in Ireland and the UK, will produce 10 terawatt-hours of electricity per year from 500 to 700 wind turbines in the Midlands of Ireland strictly for export. That is the equivalent of nearly 3 percent of Britain's power demand in 2011.
Project developer Element Power, owned by U.S. private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy Partners, will build one 1,000-megawatt power line to Pentir and a 2,000 MW cable to Pembroke, which are expected to start operating in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Ireland is expected to produce more wind power than it needs, leaving room for exports to Britain, which has a target to generate 15 percent of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, compared with around 9 percent last year.
'The UK energy requirement has become Ireland's opportunity. It makes perfect sense to capitalise on our geographic location and create an export industry,' Tim Cowhig, chief executive of Element Power Ireland, said in a statement.
Tuesday's grid connection approvals are a first step for the project, but the power cables and the Irish wind farms are still pending local authority approval, and no power purchase agreements (PPAs) have yet been signed with UK buyers, a spokeswoman said.
Britain and Ireland last month agreed to study the possibility of trading electricity from renewable sources such as wind farms via interconnectors. ($1 = 0.6403 British pounds)
(editing by Jane Baird) Keywords: BRITAIN ELECTRICITY/IRELAND
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