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Repowering Wind Turbines in Ireland - To Repower or not to Repower?

  • Ireland
  • Environment - Energy and sustainability
  • ESG
  • Energy and infrastructure - Clean energy

10-08-2021

Introduction

Wind turbines play a vital part in providing electricity to the Irish grid with nearly 40% of electricity being supplied from wind energy. Their role is set to increase as new windfarms are developed in line with Ireland’s 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. However, the lifespan of a typical wind turbine is 20-25 years and as turbines age wind farm owners are required to decommission or repower their farms.

Wind Energy Ireland (formerly the Irish Wind Energy Association) has noted that by 2030 almost 1,400 MW of turbine capacity will reach the end of life phase. Consequently, repowering windfarms will become a core component in contributing to Ireland’s energy needs.

When deciding to repower a windfarm, operators must consider a range of factors such as the regulatory framework, planning restrictions, the availability of grid capacity and the investment required. This article aims to highlight the issues associated with repowering wind turbines.

What is Repowering?

Repowering a farm can take two general forms, either a life extension or a full repowering. In a life extension or partial repowering, the components such as the generator of an existing wind turbine are upgraded. A life extension is also referred to as a refurbishment, enhancement or reactivation. While the turbine remains and the layout of the windfarm is unchanged, new components and technology are added.

In a full repowering the turbines are dismantled and new ones are installed in a greenfield or brownfield site.

The alternative to repowering is decommissioning, where all infrastructure is removed and the land is returned to its original condition. Depending on the type of decommissioning undertaken remaining parts can be sold or scrapped.

Regulatory Framework

Ireland lacks a clear and specific framework for repowering and a legal definition of the term does not exist in this jurisdiction. This is a common theme in other states as the issue of repowering and the wind industry itself are both relatively new. Although the government’s latest Climate Bill (Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021) commits Ireland to meeting its emissions targets, the Bill in its current form does not address repowering. In the UK and Spain, the lack of a regulatory framework lowered the number of attempts to repower1 and as seen by a UK legal dispute a lack of clarity on the definition of repowering can create confusion and slow developments.2

Planning Restrictions and Grid Capacity 

Restrictions on planning was cited in a Wind Energy Ireland survey3 as being one of the major deterrents for operators. Planning permission is granted subject to environmental and planning requirements being followed. Restrictions on tip height and the amount of available land could prevent repowering. In designated Natura 2000 sites protected under the Habitats and Birds Directives there are more onerous assessment procedures and standards to follow. Furthermore, the draft Wind Energy Development Guidelines4 do not provide exemptions for repowering. In the long term, the lack of exemptions will add to the difficulty of efforts to repower.

Repowering a windfarm will not be feasible if there is a lack of grid capacity. Operators are limited to their existing capacity unless new connections are granted and built onto the transmission grid. Applying and obtaining a new connection can take up to two years. This is a clear difficulty for repowering windfarms. A streamlined system to fast track repowering applications would allow operators to redevelop the existing infrastructure.

Investment and Support

Given the significant amount of capital required to repower, a level of commercial risk follows any decision to extend a wind farm’s life. Financial supports have also begun to decrease as Ireland transitions to auctions. After Germany’s first wind power the cost of supporting wind energy dropped from up to €90/MWh to less than €50/MWh.5 How repowering is dealt with in RESS will play a key role here.

Conclusion

Although there are hurdles for the industry and government to overcome, repowering will be necessary to extend the life of Ireland’s ageing fleet of wind farms and to improve efficiency and integration. This in turn could secure our energy supply, provide value for consumers and encourage employment. Repowering is also critical in Ireland reaching its 2050 climate targets. Repowering needs to become a pressing issue for operators and policy makers, as there is a substantial amount of groundwork required to build a successful repowering framework in Ireland. Kicking the proverbial can is inadvisable.

For more information, please contact

Jennifer Burke, Senior Associate, Energy - JenniferBurke@eversheds-sutherland.ie


1. https://windenergyireland.com/images/files/repoweringes.pdf

2. https://acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/ViewDocument.aspx?fileid=33507959

3. https://windenergyireland.com/images/files/repoweringes.pdf  see paragraph 3.6.

4. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/9d0f66-draft-revised-wind-energy-development-guidelines-december-2019/

5. https://www.cesifo.org/DocDL/CESifo-Forum-2018-2-jashari-lippelt-schickfus-price-wind-solar-june.pdf

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.