Saturday 24 January 2009

Only fraction of funds for ocean energy plan released

ONE YEAR after a €26 million ocean energy programme was unveiled by Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, only a fraction of the funding has been released.

Promised grant aid to companies has not been paid out, and one of the sector’s leading researchers, Dr Tony Lewis of University College Cork, has warned that Ireland will lose investors and a valuable opportunity to be at the forefront of technological development if there are further delays.

Former US ambassador Thomas Foley had predicted last year that Ireland could be to ocean energy what Finland has been to mobile phones. However, he was critical of bureaucratic delays at a time when he believed US investors were very keen to support Irish technology.

Dr Lewis, of the UCC Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre, said yesterday that other European countries were now posing a serious threat in terms of developing the technology.

The €26 million, three-year ocean energy programme was announced on January 15th, 2008 by Mr Ryan, who said he intended Ireland to become a “world leader in renewable energy”. He said he was “beginning a programme of change with the delivery of a major initiative on ocean energy”.

Mr Ryan specified that in 2008 the initiative would include allocation of €1 million towards a national ocean energy facility in UCC, and €2 million to develop a grid-connected wave energy test site near Belmullet, Co Mayo.

Significantly, it would also include €2 million in grants in 2008 under the ocean energy prototype fund to assist developers in making their devices commercial, he said.

Mr Ryan also approved a new feed-in tariff of €220 per megawatt hour for wave-generated energy, and established an ocean energy development unit within Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) at a cost of €500,000.

The new unit’s establishment by SEI took more than six months,which may have been a contributory factor to further delays, Dr Lewis says. Applications for the grant-aid scheme from industry were only invited by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in November and no money was paid out last year.

Industry sources have expressed concern to The Irish Times that not only will this grant-aid now be lost, but that potential private investment opportunities for matching funding will be jeopardised.

Dr Lewis said he could understand the frustration felt by industry.

Irish Times

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