Mainstream in ?1.5bn deal for Irish wind energy project

Eddie O’Connor’s Mainstream Renewable Energy is joining forces with a Chinese wind turbines manufacturer and bank to invest up to €1.5 billion in Irish wind power projects.

Mr O’Connor, the company’s chief executive, confirmed yesterday that the company is planning to build wind farms in Ireland with a total capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW), the equivalent of between two and three average-sized power plants, over the next five years.

He estimated this would involve a total investment of about €1.5 billion over the period. Mainstream has agreed a deal with Sinovel, China’s biggest manufacturer of wind turbines, to supply the hardware needed.

According to Mr O’Connor, the China Development Bank is likely to provide part of the funding, along with his company, which he said now has considerable cash resources, although he did not give any details.

Mainstream and its partners will target wind farm projects that already have planning permission and licensing, but which have stalled for want of finance or some other reason. The company is not ruling out getting involved in new developments in the future.

Mr O’Connor founded Mainstream in 2008 with the €50 million that he made from the sale of independent energy company Airtricity to Scottish Southern Energy for €1 billion in early 2007.

The company has been active in Britain, western Europe and the US, but not in Ireland. Mr O’Connor said the company believes that the time is right to begin investing in Ireland, partly because the Government is committed to supporting renewable energy.

He said the British government recently said it would be willing to import wind-generated electricity from Ireland, which he said would help underpin demand here.

Mainstream has wind energy projects with a capacity of about 16,000MW under development around the world.

Mr O’Connor said that Chinese manufacturers such as Sinovel are looking to sell their products in countries in which the company is developing energy projects.

Sinovel is the world’s second biggest manufacturer of wind turbines after Spanish group Vestas.

Mr O’Connor founded Airtricity after leaving State company Bord na Móna, where he was chief executive. While he was there, he developed the country’s first commercial wind farm at Bellacorrig in Co Mayo.

Mainstream has operations in Britain, Europe and North and South America. The company frequently operates with partners such as Sinovel.

It is involved in the development of a number of large-scale offshore wind energy projects in Britain, which is planning to invest heavily in offshore energy over the coming decade.

Late last year, it and local partner Goldwind won a licence from the Illinois Power Agency to build a 100MW facility at Shady Oaks Illinois. It is also bidding for projects in South Africa.

The former Manchester United chairman and non-executive director and one-time chief executive of British utility Centrica, Sir Roy Gardner, was recently appointed chair of Mainstream’s board.