The Spirit of Ireland

In an unrelated thread, people were asking for my opinion on the Spirit of Ireland (the specific project, not in general). So, at the risk of insulting people, here we go.

The project promises to:

  • “[Create t]ens of thousands of jobs
  • Achieve energy independence in five years
  • Save €30 billion importing fossil fuels
  • Create potential to add €50bn to our Economy
  • Slash carbon dioxide emissions”

and “[…] help secure European energy supplies” at that.

The secret is pumped hydropower. Wind power is variable and unpredictable and therefore cannot provide more than a certain share of total electricity supply. International studies cap the share of wind at 10%, maybe 20% if you’re lucky. The Government aims for 40%. (This came about after an optimistic study by the Dept Energy concluded that 30% may work, and that 40% is not infeasible.) The Spirit of Ireland wants to go to 100% wind. That means that electricity will have to be stored, so that supply and demand can be matched. The storage method in this case is to use wind power to pump water into a reservoir and use hydropower to generate power.

All this is proven and scalable technology.

The wholesale price of electricity varies quite substantially over the course of the day,  by an order of magnitude between peak and trough. This means that one could make a lot of money if one would be able to store electricity for 12 hours or so. The fact that the market is not rushing in to build pumped storage, not in Ireland and not anywhere, is because pumped storage is very expensive and often controversial.

The Spirit of Ireland has not released any detail on their cost calculations.  However, reservoirs have been build for thousands of years. It is unlikely that the Spirit of Ireland has a technological break-through that drastically reduces the costs. If pumped hydro is not commercially viable elsewhere, why would it be in Ireland?

In any case, their costs are private costs. If electricity is 100% wind in the foreseeable future, then all our existing power stations would be sitting idle. A number of them are quite old, but there are a good few new ones as well. This would amount to a destruction of capital that is measured in billions of euros.

Their employment numbers are suspect too. Their plan would destroy thousands of jobs at the ESB, but in return they plan to create tens of thousands of jobs. This does not square with their claim that they would reduce the price of electricity. For one, their labour cost would be 5-10 times as high as the current labour cost. It is also not clear what those tens of thousands of workers would be doing. Perhaps they would build the dams by shovel and wheelbarrow, and when the dams are finished, turn the turbines by hand when there is no wind. There simply is not that much to do.

The aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not clear cut either.  Dams use a lot of concrete, wind turbines use a lot of steel and reservoirs generate a lot of methane. This would not reverse the sign, but take away substantially from the gains.

They promise to achieve all this in five years. The problem with that is that they’d need planning permission for turbines, transmission lines, and reservoirs. Five years may just be feasible if they’d start building now.

There is an interesting twist to the reservoirs. The plan is to build these in the west, where geology is indeed suitable. They plan to build the reservoirs with salt water. The environmental impact assessment is thus quite tricky. Under European legislation, they would need to compensate the loss of nature — that is, take a tidal saltwater marsh and turn it into a non-tidal freshwater marsh. Empoldering part of Dublin Bay would qualify, but may run into other objections.

In sum, the Spirit of Ireland is unrealistic in its every aspect.

Unfortunately, if you tell the story enthusiastically enough, there are always people who actually believe you — and this is probably more so in times of doom and gloom.

108 thoughts on “The Spirit of Ireland”

  1. Richard, I don’t mean to accuse you of being a ‘nay-sayer’, but I’ve never read you in support of any particular measures (obviously I haven’t read all of your writings!). No doubt you have some policy ideas that you reckon would help out a lot? I’d be eager to hear them, as I’m sure others would be too…

    I agree that the Spirit of Ireland stuff seems like nonsense though. Particularly the thousands of jobs claim! It kinda reminds me of the Shamrock City gag a while back.

  2. “It is unlikely that the Spirit of Ireland has a technological break-through that drastically reduces the costs. If pumped hydro is not commercially viable elsewhere, why would it be in Ireland?”

    I’m surprised you say this, given the core innovation behind the scheme.

    The basic idea is to use seaward-facing natural reservoirs, with the sea as the lower reservoir. That’s why it’s a lot cheaper than traditional, Turlough-Hill-style pumped storage.

    Pumped hydro is being used in Portugal I think.

  3. Marcus,

    The ‘Shamrogue City’ video is absolutely hilarious. Especially the ‘giraffe only’ zoo bit and the way the lgreen lights come on to show up the outline of the leaves. Best send up of the property bubble hubris ever!

    If Richard Tol’s observations on Spirit of Ireland are even only half right, it seems we might be heading towards a ‘green energy’ bubble of similar proportions in a few years time. Trouble is that while Shamrogue City was a spoof, the Spirit of Ireland business is not.

  4. Hi Richard. With any kind of sensible price on carbon, low-carbon or no-carbon technologies have all of the economic advantage that they need, and politicians the opportunity to be technologically neutral for a change.

    You only need to deal with the externality once, so put a price on carbon, charge properly for transmission, no grants, tax breaks or price guarantees, and no priority dispatch deals. The correct amount of wind is whatever it turns out to be, and not to be computed by some consultancy report. There should be no government or EU targets for wind penetration. I blame the EU for this – these guys think that a target is a policy. The potential to get miles away from the least-cost abatement strategy is enormous with high wind targets. Meanwhile there is sloppy policy design.
    Why do people want to know the market share outcomes twenty years hence?

    If the Spirit of Ireland people want to raise capital on the private market for a pumped storage project, good luck to them. If they want grants, I don’t see the case.

  5. While some of what they propose is a little too colourful for my taste,
    the key point is that because of Irish geology, we have very high height differences close to the sea.

    For non-technical people, while the capacity of a pumped storage is directly related to the height difference, the capital cost is almost independent of the height difference.

    So remote coastal locations in Donegal are not only the ideal location for windfarms, there are also 500 + foot (150 metre +) height differences available.

    And that is why most engineers recognise this as being intuitively a very worthwhile scheme.

  6. Recently UCD professor Ray Kinsella enthused in the Irish Times, in terms evoking De Valera: “It is, however, the proposed governance of the Spirit of Ireland initiative which truly sets it apart. The hubris that brought Ireland to its knees in the latter stages of the Celtic Tiger was characterised by societal fragmentation, driven by greed. We lost the run of ourselves and lost sight of our neighbour.”

    However, he resembled his namesake in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, who hears a voice whisper, “if you build it, he will come,” as he walks through his cornfield.

    Like so much in life, the project could be a good thing but on May 12th The project website (http://www.spiritofireland.org/) provided the following information on key aspects of such a major proposal:

    Technical Overview

    Our content is being updated. Please check back soon….

    Commerical Overview

    Our content is being updated. Please check back soon….

    Financial Overview

    Our content is being updated. Please check back soon.

    In the interval, the Technical Overview section
    (http://www.spiritofireland.org/overviews.php) has been filled with generalised non-technical information and the other section heads have been deleted.

    So, as I said it would or could be a good thing:

    http://www.finfacts.ie/irishfinancenews/article_1016650.shtml

  7. Richard,

    You are absolutely correct. The Spirit of Ireland proposal has more holes than Swiss cheese! “The environmental impact assessment is thus quite tricky” – I think destroying vast tracts of our beautiful countryside is more accurate. The penny hasn’t dropped with people that renewable energy on a large scale will create enormous environmental damage.

    Please see here:
    http://phe.rockefeller.edu/docs/HeresiesFinal.pdf

    http://phe.rockefeller.edu/docs/HoreisIntAusubel2Dec.pdf

    And for readers of this blog too busy to follow up these links the following quote is taken from page 2 of the second document:

    “Sadly, the destruction of landscape for so-called green energy, not only in Germany, may be fruitless because wind and solar will not provide the needed large amounts of kilowatts. In twenty years, these sources will have failed economically, leaving renewable energy to be remembered as the energy equivalent of sub-prime mortgages”

  8. @Marcus
    I’m in favour of all sorts of things. A carbon tax, a property tax, bike lanes, break-up and privitisation of ESB, CIE and DAA, Colm McCarthy, and so on.

    @Peter, Maurice
    Ireland’s geology helps, of course, but mountains near the sea is not a unique as a Dutchman like me would think.

    @Colm
    If private investors want to build this within the regulations, fine with me. A media blitz with over-the-top claims is a peculiar strategy though.

  9. I’ve been an avid reader and as a non-economist have had great fun reading the various topics over the last weeks. I know, I should get out more…… While good bank, bad bank, blah blah is something I continue to read and learn, forgive my entry to the fray on this topic.

    @Richard,

    Thanks ! At last this snake-oil idiocy is uncovered. It is almost impossible to cover the full range of false claims in this proposal, but at least one piece of economic lunacy must be the notion that because you don’t use fossil fuels, you save the cost of the fuel – €30 billion, no less, which will, according to their colourful website, variously, be used “for our Hospitals, Schools and Pensions. Our economy and environment will be renewed. ” It’s not surprising that their scheme is uncosted – whatever it costs, they seem grasped by the notion that it won’t have to be repaid.

    @Colm,

    The wholesale price of electricity here includes the full opportunity cost of carbon. The result is that renewable energy for electricity (wind) gets paid a market price with which to “wash its face” with no need for price subsidy from the consumer. Now, play nice, let’s not get into the teeeny issue of grandfathered allowances, windfall gains and what is really needed to “put a price on carbon” !

    If a price guarantee is needed to maintain confidence from bankers, then that is of little consequence as long as the floor price is well below the LRMC.

    The issue of whether these charlatans can/will raise money on the capital markets is an order of magnitude less important than the diversion this kind of nonsense creates at a time when there are far more pressing matters to be resolved.

    “Why do people want to know the market share outcomes twenty years hence? ” I would have thought that was obvious, it’s called Greenomics….

    @Maurice,

    There is a colossal leap in scale between the feasibility of pumped storage and the notion that you could install enough of it (and the associated wind turbines) to meet our electricity needs and “Through large Power Interconnectors to Europe……….. provide valuable, much needed Natural Energy to our European partners. We can help secure European energy supplies and cut its Greenhouse emissions. ” Have these bozos done even the simplest comparisons between the scale Irish electricity demand and that in other countries (demand in the likes of the greater Manchester area is higher than Irish demand, if I recall correctly). So, exactly how many turbines and valleys will they need ??

    That assertion that most engineers recognise this as being intuitively a very worthwhile scheme is a signal that no economic or financial analysis has been done, not surprising given that they haven’t identified the valleys they intend to flood, or the new marshes to be created, and a clear sign that this is someone’s pet idea which has enough interesting engineering challenges to attract other engineers.

    By the way, has anyone noticed that a reservoir of natural gas with the capacity to meet about 60% of our demand for a good few years (depending on how quickly you take the gas out etc.) has been lying safely beneath the Atlantic, with the last 10 odd years devoted to trying to get agreement to bringing it ashore through a pipe across a bay, with enough local objectors/looneys to include people who are willing to be jailed ??

    Roll up Roll up, volunteers needed to pick out a couple of unwanted valleys in the West of Ireland, to be flooded with XXXX trillions of gallons of sea water……… perfectly safe, it’s been done in Okinawa……. No one could possibly object to that, could they ? ? Hmmmm, maybe we should think up a patriotic sounding name for the project, Spirit of Ireland indeed.

  10. @Maurice O’Leary: “the key point is that because of Irish geology, we have very high height differences close to the sea.”

    Slartibartfast, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

    Will the Cliffs of Moher become powerstations? What will happen to Aileen’s?

    bjg

  11. I grant you that on reading the pumped seawater idea I was a bit skeptical. None the less, there is a case for energy efficiency. And the simplest place to start is on the Home. Insulate and if you can, generate what ever power you can.

  12. @bjg

    You will be relieved to know that the Cliffs of Moher are unsuitable for a reservoir because the land behind the cliffs falls away towrds Liscannor.

    But there excellent sites especially in Donegal.

    And yes there are other countries wit mountains by the sea, but how many of them are as windy as Donegal?
    Remember those Flahavan porridge adverts that had the Donegal tourism people driven to distraction?

    The wider vision of Spiriit of Ireland is a bit too grand for my style but I would be very hopeful that there are plenty of reservoir locations which combined with local onshore or offshore windfarms will make compelling economic sense.

  13. @ Sean:
    You clearly never heard that an engineer is someone who can do for 50 cents what any damned fool can do for a euro.

    Yes, there are engineers who like gold-plates Rolls Royce solutions, but engineering and economics are intricately intertwined and project appraisal was/is a part of an engineers training.

    The point I am making is that most engineers can recognise that this project because of the very favourable locations maximises the output for a given amount of capital cost.

    It is the favourable economics of the project that is the attraction, not the engineering challlenge which while interesting in an operational sense is not exactly cutting edge in a technical sense.

    As regards environmental impact, the Swiss in particular have very few qualms about sacrificing some valleys to create dams for hydroelectric power. You only have to go to Bohernabreena or Blessington to see that a decent reservoir is not a blot on the landscape.

  14. The question I have is – what’s in it for the people of the areas affected by this project? As Shell to Sea and other projects have shown, priority infrastructure is difficult to enforce by fiat. No doubt a pressure group will spring up based on information from “the internet” that the dam will inevitably breach and flood any remaining land between the dam and the sea. We already see issues around high-tension line projects and whether they should be undergrounded at huge cost due to electromagnetic field concerns.

    Aside from such practical concerns – many of which are likely to inflate project cost, any such endeavour would have to have a long term benefit for the area, not a short term construction boom, a messy legacy of temporary housing and the like. A reservoir of this kind could be a springboard for an aquatic centre and lakeside residences, especially if rainwater diluted out the salt water over time or excess electricity was given over to desalination – which would probably be better for the powerhouse in the long run anyway.

  15. @Maurice:”You clearly never heard that an engineer is someone who can do for 50 cents what any damned fool can do for a euro.”

    I hope I haven’t touched a nerve, if a similarly clear exposition of the costs and benefits of this crackpot scheme were available maybe I would be less likely to think so poorly of it. There is a huge leap between the general idea of using pumped storage in conjunction with wind power and the lunatic claims of “Spirit of Ireland”.

    You suggest that “the very favourable locations maximises the output for a given amount of capital cost. It is the favourable economics of the project that is the attraction “.

    I’d be interested to know the exact favourable locations, as would the residents of the areas in question, no doubt, and I would be also be interested in reading more about the supposed “favourable economics”. I am well aware of the technical issues at root here, and it is the wild and unsubstantiated claims made by the charlatans behind this proposal that prompted me to respond to Richard’s post here.

    As for your remarks regarding environmental impact, Bohernabreen, Blessington and Turlough Hill were carried out in somewhat simpler times. You can’t seriously believe that the kind of intrusion suggested by this Spirit of Ireland crowd would avoid the wide variety of objectors, professional and amateur, who would exhaust the planning process and then exhaust the patience of a saint. In the circumstances it’s just as well.

  16. @Maurice O’Leary “The point I am making is that most engineers can recognise that this project because of the very favourable locations maximises the output for a given amount of capital cost.”

    As an engineer I don’t agree with you. This project screamed to me as something that “sounds” like a worthwhile project, that arrived at the right time and is jumped upon by the media and public out of a general feeling of hopelessness. However until I see concrete figures and details I will remain sceptical

    As a very valuable source of information in this field I would recommend everyone reading the FREE online book by David MacKay (Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge) on http://www.withouthotair.com Wind power is not the panacea some would believe it is.

  17. @Sean

    The capacity of the pumped storage scheme (kWhrs not meters cubed) is direcly related to the height difference.
    The capital cost is almost independent of the height difference.
    So sites with 500-600 feet height difference as are availble in Donegal are very useful.

    The costs will be much less than updated Turlough Hill because no tunnelling will be required and because a valley blocking dam of a given length will hold about 3 times the volume of water compared to thessentially circular dam at Turlough Hill.

    I am not part of SoI but I have identified three excellent sites on the north side of Slievetooey to the north of Glencolmcille in Donegal.
    I dont see any houses in all that area.

    I am sure that someone will find a lesser brained couglan that is on the verge of extinction there, but I think that even Maura Harrington would find it difficult to find arguments against it.

  18. @Maurice: “I am not part of SoI” – Thank heavens, I am genuinely relieved !

    “but I have identified three excellent sites on the north side of Slievetooey to the north of Glencolmcille in Donegal.”

    That’s great, now to get their project to work as advertised, all SoI have to do is figure out how build about 5000MW of wind turbines, alter the entire electricity grid so that the two/three hydro stations in Donegal can supply electricity to the entire country for days at a time during calm spells, as well as building the afore-mentioned Lost Valleys Hydro Scheme, all in five years, so that we can share the €30bn bonanza ! €30bn I hear you say ? Yes indeed, €30bn ! You see, despite the fact that electricity from wind power needs roughly the same revenue as a fossil fuel powered station to make it an economic proposition – this has something arcane to do with it’s far lower load factor outweighing the absence of fuel in it’s running costs, because it doesn’t need fossil fuel, you save the cost of fossl fuel ! ! Hurrah !

    And the cost of flooding your valleys and building your hydro stations etc etc ? About €1bn ? Oh, we’re going to give everyone the opportunity to join together and contribute towards that so the cost doesn’t have to paid back….. And the existing energy infrastructure which will be made redundant by this wonderful new dawn (power stations, interconnectors, gas network etc) ? The cost of that doesn’t have to be recovered, it’ll all go away………. Didn’t quite make that leap of logic with me? Don’t worry, just log onto the SoI website and be seduced by the feelgood Voodoo-nomics, music and reassuring voiceover, it’ll all be fine…

    “I dont see any houses in all that area.”

    Indeed, houses don’t lodge objections with the planning authorities, and it will make it all the easier to find an alternative habitat for the greater spotted ghoul which will soon be discovered living in the valleys of the Donegal High Sierra.

    More seriously, please don’t interpret my remarks as intended to be anything other than trying to point out the craziness of the claims made by the SoI.

    However high or house-less the valleys, the fact remains that this kind of feel-good, plausible sounding bunkum, peddled at a time when there are serious issues to be resolved, is offensive opportunism, to say the least.

  19. It is disappointing to see an economist produce such a one sided argument. Let me address some of your points:

    If pumped hydro is not commercially viable elsewhere, why would it be in Ireland? Pumped hydro is commercially viable in the right circumstances. Ireland’s U-shaped valleys inclined towards the sea and at good height meet these circumstances. At Turlough Hill the huge cost was down to the fact that an artificial lake had to be created on four sides (it was not a dam), combined with the need to hide the generators and turbines underground. In the West huge volumes of water can be contained by earth dams (no concrete needed). Open channels can contain the water. Pumped hydro is being adopted worldwide most notably in Portugal which is now a front runner in renewable technologies.

    If electricity is 100% wind in the foreseeable future, then all our existing power stations would be sitting idle. A number of our power stations are in need of replacement. Also a number of gas powered stations would be kept for use for security purposes. Other stations can be dismantled and turbines (the most expensive part) can be easily sold on. If we don’t wish to dismantle them we can keep them running and simply sell excess energy to Britain and Europe through the interconnectors.

    It is also not clear what those tens of thousands of workers would be doing. The current jobs in the ESB would be relocated to the new generators. They would also still be needed to maintain the grid so very few jobs would be lost in the ESB. The new jobs would come from construction of the infrastructure and manufacturing of equipment. Dams, channels, generators and roads will all need to be built. We have already seen hundreds of jobs being created in wind turbine manufacturers this month.

    Dams use a lot of concrete, wind turbines use a lot of steel and reservoirs generate a lot of methane. The dams proposed are earth dams for the most part. Wind turbines don’t need one tenth of the steel needed to build oil pipe line and supertankers. Not to mention old fashion barrels!

    They promise to achieve all this in five years. No the wish is to do this in 5 years.

    Under European legislation, they would need to compensate the loss of nature — that is, take a tidal saltwater marsh and turn it into a non-tidal freshwater marsh. That is incorrect.

    In sum, the Spirit of Ireland is unrealistic in its every aspect. I’d very much have to disagree.

  20. “It is also not clear what those tens of thousands of workers would be doing. The current jobs in the ESB would be relocated to the new generators.”

    This is the ESB we’re talking about, where generators were put offline and the staff still paid like clockwork. The fuss about moving to Donegal would be about equal to decentralisation squared.

  21. I am astonished that Richard Tol published such questionable stuff about Spirit of Ireland project without even bothering to understand what the whole project is about. Is it the competition for attention? He said remarkable nonsense. The concrete dams “will take substantially from the gains”. Where is that information from? Spirit of Ireland is talking about rock dams, not concrete dams. His “destruction of capital” is utter nonsense. Spirit of Ireland is talking about retiring old plants. Nothing is being destructed, relax!

    According to Richard Tol, the reservoirs are build for “thousands years”. Would he rather say for millions of years or something more dramatic, thousands of years sounds too short.

    According to Richard Tol “Their labor costs would be as high as 5-10 times as high as the current labor cost”. Where is this information from? Did he not just complain that “Spirit of Ireland did not release any details of their cost calculations”. So did they release some information in secret just to Richard Tol after all or he just made up this number?

    His assertion that the market “is not rushing to built pumped storage not in Ireland and not anywhere” points to very weak knowledge base of the speaker to say it mildly.

    “Their proposal is unrealistic in every respect”. Would Richard Tol take pity of these poor naïve Spirit of Ireland people and just say “unrealistic in every respect bar one” or something of this sort so that these poor people do not get entirely humiliated by his impartial opinion and wisdom.

    Richard’s assertion that “reservoirs generate a lot of methane” deserves most careful scientific analysis. This sounds like the ultimate solution to the world’s energy problem. We just need to collect a lot of methane produced and that will give us all the fuel we need. There is no need to wind turbines. Is everything fine with the energy conservation in his conclusion?

    Richard’s suggestion to “empolder part of Dublin bay” is particularly fine even it can “run into other objections”.

    I heard story that Spirit of Ireland people approached one glorious energy-guru economist of Ireland funded by electricity utility company before their public launch and this person (who is he?) wrote that his contribution to the project would cost XXX in research funding. Spirit of Ireland could not pay (they are only a bunch of volunteers) to the guru and avail of his deep knowledge of capital destruction and other marvels.
    It may be much safer to remain in the “rubbish it camp”.
    One just needs to be sarcastic and there is no need to understand the Spirit of Ireland proposal at all.
    Observer

  22. @Dermot
    It’s good to see a response from the Spirit of Ireland.

    Let’s recap. Storage of electricity has been very valuable for a long time. Demand has always been variable, and running a power plant continuously has always been much cheaper than ramping it up and down. Ireland’s geology has not changed much in recent times either. So what has changed that pumped hydro is now commercially viable when it was not before? What is unique about Ireland? We don’t see a rush to pumped hydro in other mountainous and windy parts close to the sea.

    Current and planned interconnection is not sufficient for export at the scale needed.

    The jobs you mention are temporary employment. It’s easy to employ tens of thousands for a day. What we need, however, is more permanent jobs. Many of the jobs you mention would be abroad.

  23. My attitude to this is I’d rather waste billions on this than give it to banksters, NAMA etc…

    Thats assuming that whats written here is correct….which is not proven one way or the other….So why not spend some money costing it and if the sums add up, build 1… They don’t all have to be built….

    It has to work and has to produce cheap/competitive energy…. But screwing around with wind like we are without pumped hydro is bollocks, its just a trading scheme to enrich wind producers and does nothing to reduce our dependance on fossil fuels…

    Any doubt about this read the CER reports, they have created a trading platform skewed towards producers of intermittent/unreliable energy

    The economic argument against the current wind only strategy is compelling (unless like CER you are assuming a socialist alliance of european energy companies), we will be producing wind energy at the same time as the scots etc i.e. it will be cheapest… while not having our own source of power when its too stormy or calm, i.e. power will then be more expensive for us to buy….

  24. @Observer
    The Spirit of Ireland promises to employ tens of thousands of people. At present, thousands of people are employ in power generation. So, labour costs go up by an order of magnitude.

    Few of current power plants are scheduled for retirement in the next five years, the alleged time frame for the realisation of the Spirit of Ireland project.

    I wrote “reservoirs have been build for thousand of years” (rather than “reservoirs are build to last for thousands of years”) to indicate that this is a mature technology. Novel technologies often see dramatic changes in costs, mature technologies rarely do. Pumped hydro was hardly commercially viable in recent times, so it is not likely to be a technology to sweep the market now. It may of course be that Spirit of Ireland has a patent application pending and is wisely hush about it.

    On my involvement with the Spirit of Ireland, we are indeed approached to do an economic assessment. We named a price, a time frame, and stated our usual conditions for independence. Our offer was rejected because we could not deliver fast enough and because we insisted on publishing the results as they are. Money was no consideration.

  25. I really hope that this totally flawed analysis is not a typical example of your work, for if it is, your reputation is now shattered.
    Your conclusions imply the fact, that not only did you not understand the concept behind the proposal, it may imply a deliberate decision not to understand the project. And yet you make such claims for your independnce.

    Perhaps you can restore some credibility, by displaying even a little knowledge of the operation of the national grid, a thorough knowledge of which would be necessary were your conclusions to carry any weight, and explain to me the importance that Turlough Hill plays in the stability of the grid. You might also explain to your public, where in the spirit of ireland website, advertisements or public comment of any kind, does it state that this proposal would want or need to close any existing generating plant, even one day before the the end of its economic life.

    And finally back to the grid, and you may phone a friend if you wish, how, as the grid is presently formulated and engineered, is it possible to connect, again with grid stability in mind, even the 20% of renewable energy now required, never mind 40%, without pumped storage, of a spirit of ireland flavour or otherwise. Perhaps the consuner may prefer a price rise to cover the cost of another big power station, in order to have spinning reserve available.

    Or you could just tell the truth, no one paid your price, and so no study was done, and your remarks are conjecture not fact.

  26. @Pat
    The Spirit of Ireland aims to achieve energy independence in five years (2014). I guess they mean energy independence in power generation. All coal is imported. So SoI would see a closure of MoneyPoint by 2014. MoneyPoint was expensively refurbished during the last couple of years, and is scheduled to close somewhen between 2020 and 2025. Some 95% of gas is imported. If and when Corrib will come on line, gas imports will still be 40% or more. So SoI’s proposal does imply that some of the gas-fired power station will go out of business by 2014, well before the end to their lifetime. You may want to “balance” the equation by saying that fossil fuel will be used for exported electricity only, but our ability to export electricity is limited and, although larger, will still be limited in 2014 and not enough to export all “fossil electricity”. So, SoI means to close power plants before the end of their economic and technical lifetime.

    As I indicated in the original post, grid stability is indeed an issue with 20% renewables, let alone 40%. That 40%, by the way, is an aspiration that the current government laid down for the government after next to achieve. The 20% target has a certain legal standing. 20% renewables would require more interconnection and more vigorous demand side management (both of which are in the works) but also more spinning reserves or some form of storage (unless, of course, you simply shed excess electricity as is current practice). International evidence suggests that spinning reserves are cheaper than pumped storage. Plug-in hybrids may change the equation.

    The study that was not done did not include the basic facts about power generation in general and Ireland in particular. The open question is “what is the value of turning a stochastic power supply into a deterministic one?” The only answer I have to that question is BIG, but I would like to be a bit more precise.

  27. Richard, now that is the basis for opening a debate, as opposed to your first attempt which formed a basis for closing the debate. Let the debate begin

  28. There’s a distinct air of repressed cononial negativity to new ideas in Ireland – I’d suggest that it’s time visionairies are enabled instead of grounded by the Irish villagers.

    If these guys have the gumption to Try, a Citizen Government should enable where it can, it’s then up to the SoI to deliver or not. But to sit on one’s butt and disparage is nothing more than herding the Engineers, the Makers, into the mediocraty populated by the village gossipers. Such an economy is doomed to failure (oh, wait… isn’t Ireland bankrupt?). Well done.

  29. The speech by Richard Tol does not come under definition of “more detailed and reasoned”. I noticed that the amount of technical details on the Spirit of Ireland site is in no comparison with hollow speech by Tol. There is nothing in his speech, but bold skepticism and wrong facts. Tol is great person to rubbish proposals and very poor in proposing anything of positive nature of his own.
    It appears he did not even bother to understand the proposal and meet the proposers. The genius knows everything and forms opinion on the spot.

  30. Richard,

    You seek to be taken seriously. You are cynical about most things that originate in Ireland – yet you choose to make your living here. Why?

    I am sure that the Spirit of Ireland project has its flaws but I am equally sure it has merit too. We out here would like to see both sides of the case properly represented. If you have so much to contribute to Irish life, why dont you engage with the people involved and work positively with them to distill and develop the aspects of benefit to Ireland.

    I note that some of the comments you make are simply wrong. If you are serious about you profession, surely you must get your facts straight? I am surprised that the ESRI is operating on such a basis. I believe it very damaging to the reputaion of the organisation.

    James.

  31. 500 million has been recently spent fitting scrubbers to the chimneys in money point; the scrubbers remove pollutants. Double that figure and we could build one of those storage reservoirs and install the wind turbines. That would save a multiple of the pollutants the scrubbers will save!!

    If the SoI initiative increases the labour costs associated with generating electricity in Ireland because staff levels will need to increase will it really be a bad thing?? A major cost in electricity generation is the cost of the fossil fuel; eliminating the fossil fuel cost (which as you all know we mostly import at 3 billion a year) and transferring this money to the Irish economy in wages will be a good thing.

    I agree with Peter; Richard’s speech is hollow.

  32. Dear Richard,

    I have reviewed some of the earlier comments in this blog. I have the follwoing questions:

    1. Is it true that ESRI sought to extract hundred’s of thousand of Euro’s from a voluntary group working in the interests of the people of Ireland? I cant believe John Fitzgerald agreed to this. Please confirm is isnt true and state openly and publicly how much the ESRI sought to extract.

    2 Did you discuss the details of this project with the people working on it? If so when?

    3 What is your/ESRI proposal to take Ireland to Energy Independence? Please tell us.

    4 How do you/ESRI propose we become energy secure? Please tell us.

    5 If the Danes have made a major industry of natural energy, why should we not do so in Ireland?

    6 For every 100MW of wind installed the Danes created 691 jobs. Why cant we do this? If we can will the ESRI tell us how?

    6 If it cannot propose an alternate solution, what will you/the ESRI do to actively assist these people working in all our interest?

    I dont understand where you/ESRI are coming from. Please enlighten us.

    James.

  33. @David
    Wind power is undoubtedly good for air pollution and climate change. It is less favourable for nature and landscape conservation. The same is true for hydropower.

    Wind power may have low fuel costs, but it is very expensive in capital costs. Electricity from coal costs on average some 4 cents per kilowatthour, but electricity from wind is between 6 and 12 cents per kilowatthour. Indeed, wind power barely competes in the Irish market with its very favourable wind conditions and its high fossil fuel prices. In other countries, wind cannot compete without major subsidies (often hidden).

    Wind plus pumped hydro is more expensive still.

    Increasing employment is good in itself, but it does raise the cost of wind plus pumped hydro even further.

    The Spirit of Ireland has yet to release their estimate of the cost per kilowatthour. I reckon it would be 14 cents per kilowatthour or more, so that the retail price would go to 20 cents or so.

  34. @James
    1. The Spirit of Ireland was presented to me as having the backing of a major foreign company. It would be rather worrying to have a major piece of crucial infrastructure run, or even designed by a voluntary organisation, as the SoI now claims to be.

    While ESRI expertise does not come cheap, we work on a not-for-profit basis. The offer we made was five figures. A billion-euro project easily justifies millions of euros of preparatory research.

    2 I had email exchanges and telephone conversations with two people of the SoI, and with one person who is listed as a team member but claims he is not.

    I also studied the information on the SoI website. More detailed information can apparently be had through a Freedom of Information request to the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance, and the Department of Energy etc.

    3 Energy self-sufficiency is not a goal worth pursuing.

    4 Our latest research on energy security can be found here:
    http://www.esri.ie/publications/search_for_a_publication/search_results/view/index.xml?id=2429

    Other papers on energy can be found at the same web site and at http://ideas.repec.org/s/esr/wpaper.html

    As a first-order effect, pumped hydro would reduce the probability of short brown-outs, but if the reservoirs run dry and the wind does not return may increase the probability of long black-outs. However, second and third order effects often dominate security of supply estimates. This requires new research. By spreading the rumour that they have political support, the SoI may have increased regulatory uncertainty and this reduces the security of supply.

    5 Denmark is doing well out of wind energy. They invested heavily in research and early deployment for 15 years. They were fortunate that just as the technology matured in the late 1990s, the Germans decided to heavily subsidise wind power. Other nations, including Ireland, soon followed. The Danish profits are, in fact, paid by taxpayers and consumers in other countries.

    The Danish experience has inspired many politicians around the world, and all are aspiring to become the next Denmark. While pre-existing expertise would have put the Danes in a decent position had they had to compete for primacy in wind power, Ireland does not excel in mechanical engineering or in system design and optimisation.

    Ireland’s contribution to energy research is more likely to be in advanced chemicals or materials and perhaps indirectly in ICT.

    6 Peak demand in the Republic is about 5000 MW. 5000/100×691 = 34,550. So the claim that the SoI would “create” tens of thousands of job is based on the assumption that the Danish number for jobs created per MW capacity installed abroad holds for pumped hydro capacity in Ireland? If so, that claim confuses stocks with flows, and exports with domestic production.

    7 I do not believe there is “a problem” that needs “a solution”. Energy is more complex than that. Current ESRI research covers the impacts of interconnection, the renewables targets, the replacement of MoneyPoint, European climate policy, demand side management, and electric vehicles.

  35. Dear Richard,
    Thank you for your response. I believe reasoned dialogue is always beneficial. Its the only way we learn from one another.

    I’m not a huge fan of wind power but I’m even less of a fan of burning fossil fuels or nuclear waste. At this time wind is the only real alternative. Would you agree?

    Wind power is expensive in initial capital costs but low in terms of life costs. Spirit of Ireland say the project will only proceed if they can bring the cost down to €1.3m per MW installed. They are certainly taking on a serious challenge here but if they can do it, this would be a fine achievement. Would you agree?

    I asked them what they expected the power price to be. They responded “7-8 cents per kW hour fixed for 10 years with discounts to large users”. “The price would then decline to “5-6 cents per kW hour once capital is paid down.” As an Irish user of electricity I would be very happy with this position. The huge variations we are presently exposed to external costs are penal and extremely dangerous to what remains of our economy. I think you misunderstand the way Spirit of Ireland proposes to use the hydro storage reservoirs. On the basis they propose it actually has the effect of flattening prices. Would you agree?

    Surely the bulk of employment is created over the five years of construction. I can see it would take thousands of people to make, erect comission and wire thousands of windmills. Therafter it would be service and maintenance. Why not create these jobs?

    On your other comments:

    1. Who presented Spirit of Ireland as being the agent of commercial interests? Are you/ESRI accusing Spirit of Ireland as being the puppet of a “major foreign company”? If so that’s one heck of an accusation. Who in your view is this “major foreign company”?

    2. Of course they are not designing a “crucial” piece of infrastructure. What I understand they are doing is specifying and costiing in detail so that we can all decide if we want to do this. What’s wrong with this?

    3. As you won’t come out clean and say what the ESRI sought to extract from a voluntary organisation working in all our interest, we can only presume the “five figure” sum to be of the order of €90,000. Good heavens. How did the ESRI get this so badly wrong?

    4. What is the ESRI doing in practical terms for this sector of the economy. We have the highest or second highest energy prices in Europe. What exactly in a few words is ESRI proposing we do about this?

    5. As you are not engineers, power network planners, market experts and have no direct experience and connection with the power industry, how can you/ESRI possibly justify a fee of €90,000?

    6. Who did you communicate with in Spirit of Ireland? It seems you/ESRI go off on the wrong foot. I’m prepared to contact them to see if they and ESRI can work together in the interests of the country. If they agree are you prepared to do so too?

    7. I looked at the Spirit of Ireland web site. There is tons of information on it and it seems more is added all the time. Where did you get the idea that you needed a “freedom of information” request. I asked them questions and they came back in a few hours or next day. What is it you can’t find?

    8. You/ESRI must be the only people in Ireland who think our present situation with respect to energy is right. Are you/ESRI really saying that energy independence is not a goal worth pursuing?

    I looked at your 2007 report on energy security. You need to take another look. It’s hopelessly out of date. You /ESRI is clearly not aware of the very considerable difficulties we face.

    Your view of how these hydo reservoirs will be used in the Irish system is absurdly basic. A child of four would know that you don’t depend on the reservoirs to cover all possibilities. Read what’s on the Spirit of Ireland web site. They are not proposing to shut all the existing stations. These are used with the hydro storage reservoirs and this greatly reduces the number of plant starts and therefore increases plant like, reduces maintenance costs and lowers overall energy prices.The objecive is to reach a point where our national needs are met in conjunction with gas and the balance is exported to offset the cost of gas imports. Energy cost neutral. Simple, isnt it?

    On political support, I don’t see that as too relevant. This follows public opinion. If people around the country want to farm the wind the politicians will support. What’s to worry about?

    “Denmark is doing well out of wind energy ….The Danish profits are, in fact, paid by taxpayers and consumers in other countries……Ireland does not excel in mechanical engineering or in system design and optimisation.” Your comments. What’s wrong with this?

    You/ESRI must think we can do nothing in this country. Do you not know that ESB International and other Irish companies have produced world leading technology and services for the power industry around the globe. We have done it in many countries, we can do it here?

    I have a mechanical backgound and even I can see that what Spirit of Ireland is proposing is very basic vanilla technology and construction – well within our national capability. Would you like me to drop in and go through it with you?

    I think you’re missing the point on jobs. It takes an awful lot of massive foundations, steelwork, cabling, truck driving, cranes, etc to get 2,000 x 3MW windmills up and running. An arts undergraduate could see this. Do you not think we could do with the work? Does the ESRI have a better alternative?

    I have read in the papers that we are proposing to spend €4bn to €15bn on “upgrading the network”. Is this true? What’s it for? Do we have this €4bn to €15bn? I’m sure ESRI was at the root of this proposal. What will we have at the end of it?

    I worked for Ford and GM. Trust me, if you/ESRI are waiting on the car companies to rescue Ireland, God help us all. Demand side management failed miserably in the UK – several times! So is the ESRI going to make it work here?

    Even the Minister has said the interconnectors should be used for export. Is this your position too?

    You will cut our carbon emissions exactly how?

    We’d all love to hear what John Fitzgerald has to say about this. Will you ask him to come on?

    Richard, it’s time to come down to earth from the very comfortable ivory tower of ESRI reports – where nothing real ever has to be delivered. Safe indeed, no courage needed. Ireland needs to cut imports, grow exports and create real sustainable jobs. If you have a better practical proposal than the Spirit of Ireland project lets hear it in words the average experienced professional can understand. When will it be forthcoming?

    Kindest regards,

    James.

  36. @James
    If the Spirit of Ireland can deliver electricity at those prices with those technologies, I’d be much impressed and I guess I won’t be the only one. They undercut the competition by 50% or more. That’s an astounding achievement for an amateur group in a mature field. No surprise then that they are so secretive about their break-through technology until they filed their patent applications.

  37. @James – for me the issue isn’t whether we can build enough windmills and storage but whether the local population will accept the intrusions required – even the sainted Kennedys have objected to windfarms off Cape Cod. Like it or not the biggest issue is going to be transmission – getting the power from the remote areas it is generated in to the urban areas it is used in. There are going to be two issues arising – build it at all, and build it underground. The first will add cost by court objections and the second will add cost by the land take required, not to mention diverting hither and yon to avoid archeological sites and nature preserves.

    It’s all very well to say this is a national priority project and thus we must all sacrifice etc., but most of the people saying likely don’t live in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and all the counties on a line from there to the Pale, and if they do a fairly sharp change of tune is almost certain when the ESB Networks surveyors come calling.

    As for the job creation – won’t the Danes be getting a lot of it, given the nature of tendering in an EU context? Their factories are built, any Irish factories would have to deal with capital costs.

  38. Mark,

    I entirely agree. The real issue is clearly not the engineering or microcosting but social acceptance. It will really interesting to see how Spirit of Ireland get on on this front.

    Perhaps they will learn the lesson that local buy-in, local ownership and local organisation are the starting points. If they do this we may all be nicely surprised.

    I wouldnt support any project that doesnt have a high majority local support.

    The West certainly needs an economic revolution. We shall see what happens.

    Best regards,

    Graham.

  39. Mark,

    I entirely agree. I believe that the real issues are not technical or microcosting but social acceptance. It will be really interesting to see how Spirit of Ireland get on on this front.

    Perhaps they will learn the lesson that local buy-in, local ownership and local organisation are the starting points.

    I wouldnt support any project that didnt have large majority local support. We shall see what happens.

    They make the towers and the blades in the UK. That’s half the cost. Dont see why we shouldnt do that here. If we were clever we’d make more of it under licence. Could be good for them too. They would benefit from a low tax take. Makes sense.

    Best regards,

    James.

  40. Richard,

    Ah now come on now, surely you can come up with a better response to the questions I asked than resorting to cynicism again?

    Patents? What are you talking about? Its simple technology. Wind farms produce power at 5-6 cents per unit, hydro storage reservoirs add 2 cents to process. What’s so difficult about that?

    Come on now. Give us a proper response to the questions asked. We’re all waiting to hear from you and the ESRI.

    Dear Richard,

    Thank you for your response. I believe reasoned dialogue is always beneficial. Its the only way we learn from one another.

    I’m not a huge fan of wind power but I’m even less of a fan of burning fossil fuels or nuclear waste. At this time wind is the only real alternative. Would you agree?

    Wind power is expensive in initial capital costs but low in terms of life costs. Spirit of Ireland say the project will only proceed if they can bring the cost down to €1.3m per MW installed. They are certainly taking on a serious challenge here but if they can do it, this would be a fine achievement. Would you agree?

    I asked them what they expected the power price to be. They responded “7-8 cents per kW hour fixed for 10 years with discounts to large users”. “The price would then decline to “5-6 cents per kW hour once capital is paid down.” As an Irish user of electricity I would be very happy with this position. The huge variations we are presently exposed to external costs are penal and extremely dangerous to what remains of our economy. I think you misunderstand the way Spirit of Ireland proposes to use the hydro storage reservoirs. On the basis they propose it actually has the effect of flattening prices. Would you agree?

    Surely the bulk of employment is created over the five years of construction. I can see it would take thousands of people to make, erect comission and wire thousands of windmills. Therafter it would be service and maintenance. Why not create these jobs?

    On your other comments:

    1. Who presented Spirit of Ireland as being the agent of commercial interests? Are you/ESRI accusing Spirit of Ireland as being the puppet of a “major foreign company”? If so that’s one heck of an accusation. Who in your view is this “major foreign company”?

    2. Of course they are not designing a “crucial” piece of infrastructure. What I understand they are doing is specifying and costiing in detail so that we can all decide if we want to do this. What’s wrong with this?

    3. As you won’t come out clean and say what the ESRI sought to extract from a voluntary organisation working in all our interest, we can only presume the “five figure” sum to be of the order of €90,000. Good heavens. How did the ESRI get this so badly wrong?

    4. What is the ESRI doing in practical terms for this sector of the economy. We have the highest or second highest energy prices in Europe. What exactly in a few words is ESRI proposing we do about this?

    5. As you are not engineers, power network planners, market experts and have no direct experience and connection with the power industry, how can you/ESRI possibly justify a fee of €90,000?

    6. Who did you communicate with in Spirit of Ireland? It seems you/ESRI go off on the wrong foot. I’m prepared to contact them to see if they and ESRI can work together in the interests of the country. If they agree are you prepared to do so too?

    7. I looked at the Spirit of Ireland web site. There is tons of information on it and it seems more is added all the time. Where did you get the idea that you needed a “freedom of information” request. I asked them questions and they came back in a few hours or next day. What is it you can’t find?

    8. You/ESRI must be the only people in Ireland who think our present situation with respect to energy is right. Are you/ESRI really saying that energy independence is not a goal worth pursuing?

    I looked at your 2007 report on energy security. You need to take another look. It’s hopelessly out of date. You /ESRI is clearly not aware of the very considerable difficulties we face.

    Your view of how these hydo reservoirs will be used in the Irish system is absurdly basic. A child of four would know that you don’t depend on the reservoirs to cover all possibilities. Read what’s on the Spirit of Ireland web site. They are not proposing to shut all the existing stations. These are used with the hydro storage reservoirs and this greatly reduces the number of plant starts and therefore increases plant like, reduces maintenance costs and lowers overall energy prices.The objecive is to reach a point where our national needs are met in conjunction with gas and the balance is exported to offset the cost of gas imports. Energy cost neutral. Simple, isnt it?

    On political support, I don’t see that as too relevant. This follows public opinion. If people around the country want to farm the wind the politicians will support. What’s to worry about?

    “Denmark is doing well out of wind energy ….The Danish profits are, in fact, paid by taxpayers and consumers in other countries……Ireland does not excel in mechanical engineering or in system design and optimisation.” Your comments. What’s wrong with this?

    You/ESRI must think we can do nothing in this country. Do you not know that ESB International and other Irish companies have produced world leading technology and services for the power industry around the globe. We have done it in many countries, we can do it here?

    I have a mechanical backgound and even I can see that what Spirit of Ireland is proposing is very basic vanilla technology and construction – well within our national capability. Would you like me to drop in and go through it with you?

    I think you’re missing the point on jobs. It takes an awful lot of massive foundations, steelwork, cabling, truck driving, cranes, etc to get 2,000 x 3MW windmills up and running. An arts undergraduate could see this. Do you not think we could do with the work? Does the ESRI have a better alternative?

    I have read in the papers that we are proposing to spend €4bn to €15bn on “upgrading the network”. Is this true? What’s it for? Do we have this €4bn to €15bn? I’m sure ESRI was at the root of this proposal. What will we have at the end of it?

    I worked for Ford and GM. Trust me, if you/ESRI are waiting on the car companies to rescue Ireland, God help us all. Demand side management failed miserably in the UK – several times! So is the ESRI going to make it work here?

    Even the Minister has said the interconnectors should be used for export. Is this your position too?

    You will cut our carbon emissions exactly how?

    We’d all love to hear what John Fitzgerald has to say about this. Will you ask him to come on?

    Richard, it’s time to come down to earth from the very comfortable ivory tower of ESRI reports – where nothing real ever has to be delivered. Safe indeed, no courage needed. Ireland needs to cut imports, grow exports and create real sustainable jobs. If you have a better practical proposal than the Spirit of Ireland project lets hear it in words the average experienced professional can understand. When will it be forthcoming?

    Kindest regards,

    James.

  41. Mark,

    I entirely agree. I believe that the real issues are not technical or microcosting but social acceptance. It will be really interesting to see how Spirit of Ireland get on on this front.

    Perhaps they will learn the lesson that local buy-in, local ownership and local organisation are the starting points.

    I wouldn’t support any project that didn’t have large majority local support. We shall see what happens.

    They make the towers and the blades in the UK. That’s half the cost. Don’t see why we shouldn’t do that here. If we were clever we’d make more of it under licence – could be good for them too. They would benefit from a low tax take. Makes sense.

    Best regards,

    James.

  42. I entirely agree. I believe that the real issues are not technical or microcosting but social acceptance. It will be really interesting to see how Spirit of Ireland get on on this front.

    Perhaps they will learn the lesson that local buy-in, local ownership and local organisation are the starting points.

    I wouldn’t support any project that didn’t have large majority local support. We shall see what happens.

    They make the towers and the blades in the UK. That’s half the cost. Don’t see why we shouldn’t do that here. If we were clever we’d make more of it under licence – could be good for them too. They would benefit from a low tax take. Makes sense.

    Best regards,

    James.

  43. @James
    Excellent business plan. We use the same technology as the competition, but we’ll sell at half their price. Market share guaranteed.

  44. Richard,

    My questions ignored again. No marks for courage on your part. Surprised. Thought ESRI was better than this. Like to give it a go and give us responses to the questions asked?

    Kindest regards,

    James

  45. @James/Graham
    1. Igor Shvets told me on the phone that SoI is backed by a major foreign company from Asia.
    2. Design, specification, costing of major infrastructure should be left to professionals.
    3/4/5. Our offer was based on our standard rates and a realistic time plan, and well in line with the cost of our work on interconnection, demand side management, renewables, Moneypoint, competition, and regulation.
    6. I’m prepared to have a discussion with SoI after they have done their homework.
    7. Graham O’Donnell told me that the technical detail was not published on the web but was submitted to the Depts Taoiseach, Finance, and Energy.
    8. ESRI papers are routinely critical of the regulation of the energy sector in Ireland. I do not know the meaning of “energy independence”. SoI seems to mean “energy self-sufficiency”. Autarky is silly.

  46. Richard,

    You say “SOI is backed by a major foreign company from Asia”. Shame on you and the ESRI for making such a false accusation on a public forum. Why on earth would you say such a thing? Disgraceful.

    Regards,

    James.

  47. @James/Graham
    Given the amount of nonsense that comes out of the SoI, I do not necessarily believe Igor Shvets’ claim about corporate support, but the claim was made.

  48. Dear Richard,

    Dont believe Professor Shvets ever said such a thing.

    Congratulations. You have now achieved 100% negativity, 0% creativity.

    Well done to you and the ESRI.

    Kindest regards,

    James.

  49. Richard,
    I read your speech and comments on this blog and I just had to respond. You are now making stories about me talking to you of a “major foreign company from Asia” and “corporate support”. I certainly did not say anything like this.

    I am truly sorry for you. The stuff in your comments and your “analysis” is disappointing.
    Would you allow me to publish without any comments the three e-mails we exchanged prior to public launch and prior to your speech? We can publish these and let all readers come to their own conclusions on the foundatins of your analysis and the level of your independent academic thinking.
    What do you say to that?
    Regards
    Igor Shvets

  50. @Igor
    I’m truly sorry should I have misunderstood what you said on the phone, but I vividly recall you enthusiastically telling me (1) that you had the backing of a number of foreign companies and (2) that the Spirit of Ireland has substantial financial resources. It was on this basis that I concluded that you might be serious.

    I only ever sent you two emails. The second one declines a lunch invitation. The first is here:

    “Dear Igor,

    I did discuss our telephone conversation with John Fitz Gerald. We could do an analysis of the value of pumped hydro in the fall of this year. However, although we have an operational model of the power generation sector, we have yet to programme this type of analysis. The costs would therefore be in the range of €75,000. The money would be transferred as a grant to the ESRI. While we’d commit to look into an agreed set of questions and deliver at an agreed date, the ESRI will publish each and any result that meets our quality criteria, regardless of the opinion of the client.

    Without any analysis, I can tell you the following:
    1. This will not create tens of thousands of jobs. Your scheme will not even employ that many, and if you would, the labour cost per kilowatthour would price you out of the market.
    2. It is highly unlikely that a saltwater reservoir will survive the environmental impact assessment.
    3. You will not be able to build ten reservoirs in a decade. You should be happy if you get planning permission for the first one in five years.
    4. The cost of achieving the transformation of 100% wind+hydro in a decade (if that were feasible) would be astronomical because of the large-scale destruction of capital.
    5. Ireland will not spend tens of billions on imported carbon permits; hundreds of millions is more likely.

    That said, pumped hydro may turn out to be a welcome addition to the portfolio.

    If the price, time-scale, and preliminary assessment did not put you off, we can continue this conversation.

    Best

    Richard”

    This email triggered another phone call in which you said that you could not wait till the fall.

  51. Richard,
    Would like to publish your second e-mail sent to me one day after your first e-mail? I will also publish the one I sent to you in response to your first e-mail. Alternatively, feel free to publish my response to your e-mail right away.
    When the whole chain of our communication is published we can talk about our interpretation.
    Igor

  52. Richard,
    the second e-mail that you sent to me in April is not the one you posted today. Could you please post the one without adaptation/modification?
    Igor

  53. @Mark
    Sorry for not being able to keep the usually high standard at this blog.

    We did establish the following:
    1. SoI does not have a technological break-through in pumped hydro, and their scheme therefore has the same high cost that prevent commercial deployment elsewhere.
    2. SoI lost whatever corporate backing they had.
    3. Judging by the “anonymous” (bar IP address, of course) ad hominems, they are worried about their public and political support too.

  54. Having seen the Spirit of Ireland presentation to the IIEA on June 4 last – which is available via the IIEA website and You Tube by the way – I can’t fail to be impresseed by the expressions of patriotism and enthusiasm of its promoters. It’s equally hard to escape the impression that questioning its environmental sustainability or its economic credentials might be viewed as treasonous.

    So, among other things, I learn that if we go about it all the right way 82,000 jobs will be created here in our new renewabel ‘energy sector’. That we have no energy policy – no difficulty agreeing that one! That there is a case to be made for establishing an Energy Promotion Agency, something along the lines of what the IDA does for industrial development in this country. That the potential value of the wind blowwing across Ireland is about 68bn, which makes us the “Saudi Arabia” of Europe. And that we could save the UK some £15bn that it must otherwise invest in building new nuclear capacity, or about one third of their planned investment in new nuclear power stations, which would presumably make us into guardian angels of the environment, at least as far as Greenpeace the anti-nuclear movement is concerned.

    The €200m proposed Mount Callan West Clare Wind Farm is only the start of it – there will be between 30- 50 such windfarms orgnaised as community co-operatives along the west coast. Suitable sites for the hydro station – in terms of the presence of the u shaped glacial valleys that no one owns and where no-one lives – exist in Counties Cork , Kerry , Mayo, Limerick, Galway and Donegal.

    To make all this feasible we need:
    2,500 turbines at a cost of 9 bn euro approx
    Reservoir for hydro plant x2 at a cost of 1.6bn euro
    Network costs of €450m
    Grid connections at €340m

    Bringing the total cost to 11.4bn.

    In the presentation, the promoters favour a ‘gangbuster’ approach to the construction of a new 400KV liveline from Donegal running all the way down the west coast to Clare. The proposed co-operative windfarms would be sited along this line.

    If it is all to work, then it must become a ‘national endeavour’. The proposers are now engaging in some form of public consutlation and they propose to return to the government and to the Irish people by September and be in a position to proclaim: “Here is the Plan”. A bit like moses coming down fromt he mountain with the Ten Commandments, I guess.

    Earnings after year five will amount to 2bn euro per annum.

    I may not be an economist, or an engineer or a scientist, but I have spent twenty years in public affairs and one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen business people and well meaning entrepreneurs and politicians make make with their own ideas is to fall in love with them and resist – and abuse – anyone who tries to point out that their geese are not swans.

    The economics of this proposal are not clear; but it appears that the State will pick up the tab for the supporting infrastructure. What will happen to our planning laws also is not clear either, since there might be grave difficulties in getting planning permission for the reservoir idea, never mind the wind farms, from any of the local authorities in these areas. Of course if one could claim it was a project vital to the national interest, one might by-pass the local planners. But that’s risky. Look at Bellnaboy. Further, environment and ecological issues are also only barely addressed, if at all, in the presentation.

    I have to wonder just how ‘green’ this project is. Just because someo=body decides it should fit into the so-called ill-defined ‘green economy’ concept doesn’t mean that it’s ‘green’ in any real environmental sense. The hyperbole surrounding the entire Spirit of Ireland project is particularly disquieting in that it will mislead people as to the actual difficulties attached and to the results that may be achieved.

    Without the sort of economic study that Richard Tol envisaged conducting it’s hard to invest much faith in any of the claims made for jobs, or energy output, or profit projections that are being thrown about with such abandon. Of course, politically, if you enthuse communities and farmers the length and breadth of the west of Ireland with dreams of a wind power gold rush, then their political representatives are likely to follow…irrespective of whether the scale of the investment required to bring this dream to reality is economically justified or not. September should be an interesting month.

  55. @Veronica
    Ireland cannot be to wind what Saudi Arabia is to oil.

    Saudi pumps oil at $4/barrel. It is the cheapest source of oil.

    Irish wind comes at €0.06/kWh, 50% more expensive than coal — and that is without transmission.

    If you add transmission costs and losses, then it is barely economic to ship power to Great Britain, let alone to the continent. If you want to supply Paris (say) with wind, then it is cheaper to build turbines near Paris (where there is not too much wind) than to transmit wind power from a windy place at great distance.

  56. Richard,
    I first corresponded with you some time ago, near the top of this,….words fail me… this blog in which I questioned your integrity. I decided to wait a while before making my judgement on you and may I say, I would not dare to be harsh or unkind enough to comment as I intend to, on a private citizen expressing their views on any subject, but you are expressing your views from the towering heights of the ESRI and so I feel no remorse in describing you as a damned disgrace, who patently is in love with his celebrity and has the undying love of Veronica, who I suspect may have an incestuous literary relationship to you. And who displays the same lack of engineering knowledge as yourself and an equal disdain for the economic reality faced by the people of this country. That Richard is only the beginning of my interest in you and I intend to be a regular correspondent in the future, and I will force some knowledge of S of I into you and your organisation, and Richard it will be free of charge.
    Pat Gill

  57. @ Pat Gill

    If you get so worked up when presented with any analysis of the Spirit of Ireland project that you’d rather not countenance then it might be best if words did fail you for a while. You might then have time to reflect that nobody is right about anything all of the time – even an Irish engineer – and that to attack the personal or professional integrity of others simply because they are laying facts before you that you are not comfortable with is not only gratuitously offensive but fatally undermines the credibility of your own arguments.

    By the way, I find the notion of an “incestuous literary relationship” vastly amusing, since I have no idea what it means as I don’t know Richard Tol. I’ve never met him, nor can I envisage any circumstances where I am likely to do so in the future, irrespective of his cachet as a ‘celebrity economist’, which is a new one on me!

  58. Veronica, I am very pleased to hear that you are well and up and about so early in the morning, although perhaps it would be best in future, were you to have a cup of tea or coffee before attacking the keyboard, in order to let the cobwebs between your undoubtedly beautiful ears retreat back to their storage unit, because you happened upon the very point of my missive, re attacking the personal and professional integrity of others. Except in my case I have allowed myself enough of my own precious time to be educated as to Richard’s ability to perform his job in the way that the citizen’s of this country expect of him, informed by the PR machine employed by his organization, that the ERSI is THE organ of record in the country regarding economic matters. Now we find that it will only analyse an agenda funded by the promoter, which is quite acceptable in the private sector, but the ERSI is NOT in the private sector, but further feels as an organization and as individuals that is also in their remit to twist the facts and attack the honesty and integrity of anyone who does not have the deep pockets required to buy their attentions. I declare my interest, I am the moderator in the S of I forum, and my job is to ensure a fair debate and also to ensure that everyone is aware that their views on the project, either pro or con are neither censored or unfairly commented on. And in this frame of mind and with my own knowledge of the E-mail and phone conversation’s between Richard and Igor, I am really afraid that Richard is in my mind a twisted intellect and yes a tabloid economist, his views on S of I are immaterial to me but the reputation, honesty and integrity of Igor will be upheld from this quarter at least, perhaps Richie might have a view on this,
    Regards Pat Gill

  59. Many, many posts later, we have learned that the SoI has at least one supporter who is very rude. We have had no answers to questions about the economic basis for the proposal. Perhaps there isn’t one.

    bjg

  60. @Pat Gill,

    Alas, poor Mr. Tol; ‘celebrity economist’ one day, ‘tabloid economist’ the next!

    I don’t appreciate being personally dragged into any row between S o I and the ESRI, but you put me there by virtue of your supercilious comments, so let’s get a couple of things straight:

    * You seem to expect the ESRI to deliver their services free to S o I out of some sort of national patriotic duty to support a project which you and your friends and associates in SoI have decided is in the national interest. Taking this to its logical conclusion, they must also be expected to endorse the SoI proposal without reservations, because that’s in the national interest too? I’m sure you can’t possibly mean that.

    * In my experience the ESRI don’t work that way in respect of private commissions or any projects carried out by them on behalf of other public sector bodies for which they tender. If they did, then it would undermine their professional credibility and their reputation. They have to be at arms length in any client relationship. Clients are of course free to accept or reject any conclusions they may reach, as may any of the rest of us, and let’s face it, they get stuff wrong every now and again. But no-one should presume to dictate what their results will be or expect the ESRI to alter them to meet any so-called national objective. That would be outrageous.

    * Defending the integrity of any side in a discussion does not confer a licence to be abusive to anyone who takes a different view. Or to patronise some poor unfortunate who just happened to be born with big ears!

  61. @Veronica
    Indeed. The ESRI has finite resources, and most of it is tied up in agreements with clients to answer specified questions (rather than justify certain answers). We happily accept new clients, and we happily discuss new questions with existing clients. To date, however, none of our existing clients (which include Dept Finance, Dept Energy, CER, ESB, EirGrid, SEI, EPA) has indicated that they want us to look into the Spirit of Ireland, so the time we can devote to this is minimal.

    That said, I did offer some crude estimates of the commercial viability of pumped hydro. SoI has yet to contest my numbers.

  62. Richard you also offered crude innuendo about Igor, as I have stated your opinion of S of I is not the issue, now would either yourself or Veronica care to comment on this aspect of your offerings, or is it accepted practice to ridicule the character of any potential clients who decline your service’s or do not meet your criteria of acceptable lunch companions. And I thank you for your enlightening comment on the activities and spending habits of your customers, and I am informed greatly in your capacity as a spokesman for those enterprises, however you have yet to address my issue.
    Thank You

    Pat Gill

  63. @Pat
    Can you be a bit more specific? I only wrote that I do not believe everything Igor Shvets says and writes. That is true, by the way, for everyone, including Veronica.

  64. @Pat
    I of course also wrote “I therefore work with the hypothesis that the Spirit of Ireland are a bunch of crackpots supported by a loony moneybag.” That hypothesis has not been refuted.

  65. Veronica, It is below my capacity as a person to make any comment other than positively on any matter, concerned with the appearance of any person, of either sex, and if that is the impression you took from my words, you have my heart felt apology and as I have never met you or seen your image in any form whatsoever, you must accept that I was not making any reference to your personal appearance, and please be advised that my only interest in the integrity of any person in this forum is the integrity of Igor Shevets. Perhaps we might have lunch some time, and I may apologise in person for the impression implied by me on your ears.

    Regards

    Pat Gill

  66. Richard,
    You are a busy man, lets settle this instantly,
    I will accept on behalf of all at S of I your statement “I therefore work with the hypothesis that the Spirit of Ireland are a bunch of crackpots supported by a loony moneybag.” after all that was the assertion made many times about people as diverse as Edison, the Wright brothers, Gordon Moore of Intel and latterly the Irish soccer team.

    Provided you also state in plain english, that Igor did not tell you lies, and any ambiguity in meaning may have been your fault and or the telephone connection, but not dishonesty. If so you can go back to being a professional economist and I can go back to being a mild mannered crackpot.

    And in the future we will discuss only “what is the value of turning a stochastic power supply into a deterministic one?” and I will assert your right to Flaucipaucinihilipil Ification in regard To S of I

    Pat Gill

  67. Richard a little more effort and we are there, your views on S of I are legitimate if in my opinion wrong, but taking a man’s character, even if by accident is not, and I know you would agree on that, so?

    Pat

  68. @Pat
    Until I find evidence of the contrary, I always work under the assumption that someone is of sterling character. Igor Shvets has not done anything to change my prior.

  69. That’s close enough to work with, enough room for personal interpretation. Perhaps Richard you are a bigger man than I gave you credit for at the start, as you find time, perhaps we can have that debate in a professional manner

    Crackpot Pat

  70. That’s close enough to work with, enough room for personal interpretation. Perhaps Richard you are a bigger man than I gave you credit for at the start, as you find time, perhaps we can have that debate in a professional manner

    Pat Gill crackpot

  71. @ Pat Gill

    I was originally very taken with the concept of the Spirit of Ireland project and I have a personal interest in the Mount Callan Wind Farm project that is connected with it.

    However, after reading the discussion on SoI on this website, and others where a similar discussion has been ongoing, plus the IIEA presentation, my original enthusiasm is tempered with serious reservations about some of the more grandiose claims that are being publicly made for this project and a PR strategy that seeks to promote it as some sort of popular ‘movement’ where any critical or contrary views will be portrayed as somehow going against the national interest. I have been here before, you see, and have some experience of where that sort of thinking ultimately leads – to failure.

    I suspect that when it comes to the ESRI that what’s been going on has been a clash of expectations – that SoI perhaps did not fully comprehend how the ESRI works and its modus operandi. And SoI is not the kind of organisation that the ESRI would normally be approached by. I’m only surmising this, so please don’t jump up and down all over me! But if you have sufficient confidence in your own case what does it matter what any individual economist or anyone else thinks of it? Or says about it? In the fullness of time it will be judged on its merits.

    My only interest in this subject has been in becoming better informed as to the viability or otherwise of the SoI project – on the facts, not any issues of personality. The only offence I take is about being cast as anybody’s ‘pal’, which I’m not. It’s very gracious of you, but not necessary, to apologise for patronising me. I’m long enough around to be more amused than irritated by anything that ‘s thrown at my head (or my unfortunate ears) and life wouldn’t be much fun if there wasn’t a bit of colour in it now and again, would it?

  72. Veronica,
    I suppose I asked for it, but now it is apparently,your turn to patronise me by saying that I would jump up and down all over you, I am I regret, a gentleman and as such would expect the jumping up and down to be done To me rather than the way you suggest, and so I remain alas jumpless and have to console myself with whatever excitement I can find, such as S of I, I hope that over the next few months, your fears and reservations may be put to bed for good.
    And I agree we all a need a little colour in our cheeks from time to time.

    Regards

    Pat

  73. Veronica, Brian, Richard in fact my question is to all viewers of this thread.
    What if any would be the benefits of some measure of energy independence for Ireland.

    Pat Gill

  74. @Pat
    There is no inherent value in using domestic sources of energy only. That’s a theory known as Colbertism or Mercantilism. It was discredited in the 19th century by Ricardo and others.

  75. Richard,

    I am genuinely interested in this subject, again as your time permits, perhaps you can expand on your view.

    Pat Gill

  76. Richard,
    It seems the techno gremlins have been busy, it appears from an entry earlier in this thread that two different posts from P.ie were from one contributor, I correct the mistake thus,

    …] Originally Posted by fiannafailure So until the parameters of the project are finalised I can only comment on or argue concepts and their practicalities, not specific financial projections. And every S of I presentation to date has been on that basis.

    a different contributor said,

    The video presentation to the IIEA clearly showed the potential sites that SOI had chosen. It also gave gave preliminary financial projections. In fact the link that you provided yesterday has a post from someone called James (who also signs off as Graham….) who seems to be very close to the project. He says: “I asked them what they expected the power price to be. They responded

    Clarity is a virtue second only to knowledge my gran used to say.

  77. Mark,
    I could also provide links, where fossil plants have tripped, and unlike the wind, where reliable forecasts are available, when a large fossil plant trips off the grid, the effect is more profound. As I said, I could provide links, but I won’t because all renewable energy suffers from intermittency, and this goes to the core of the S of I proposal, making renewable energy a reliable, dependable, dispatchable, energy source. And it does this by introducing large scale cost effective electricity storage, thereby replacing the word intermittent with the word dependable.

    Pat Gill

  78. Richard,
    Last week, as I went about my S of I business, I spoke to the CEO’s of three large domestic employers, and all agreed that a known energy cost, not dependant on the price of oil and extending at least a decade in advance, would give them confidence in their ability to keep their operations in this country. Emboldened by this knowledge, I e-mailed the global HQ of a large multinational, recently departed our shores, with the question outlined above, could a low energy cost, extending for at least a decade, and not oil dependant, be a basis for their return to Ireland. I received a one word answer, Yes.
    Could this aspect of renewable energy possibly inform a new national energy policy.

    Pat Gill

  79. @Pat
    There is this myth that the high cost of electricity hurts Ireland’s competitive position. The average energy costs (of which electricity is only a part) for businesses is 2% of total costs.

    Of course, it would be good if SoI could deliver cheap electricity (which it cannot, as wind plus pumped hydro is at least twice as expensive as gas) at a fixed price (which it cannot, because the price of electricity would go up and down with the interest rate rather than with the price of oil).

  80. Richard you are obviously including a lot of office type busineses in your calculation, as the people I spoke to had quite different figures in their accounts, enough actually to finance moving to a different jurisdiction and transport finished goods back to Ireland
    Does an economist take the effect of policy on a population into account.

    *wind plus pumped hydro is at least twice as expensive as gas) at a fixed price (which it cannot, because the price of electricity would go up and down with the interest rate rather than with the price of oil)”. You therefore assert that the price of oil had no effect on energy prices over the past 18 months.

  81. @Pat
    The cost of wind and wave power is set at the capital market, and is also driven by government subsidies here and abroad. The price of capital is highly variable, and subsidies are volatile too.

  82. Take away the subsidies, they would not be required by a mature dispatchable industry, and my question was regarding the cost price of wind and wave energy, not the cost of the technology to use them, just as the cost price of coal is a different question to the cost of Moneypoint or any other generating plant.

    Pat Gill

  83. Richard,

    I note that you still have not posted the email that you sent to Igor Shvets last April. Something to hide?

    Donal

  84. @Pat
    You are being disingenious. Costs include fixed and variable costs. Omitting one is just wrong. Wind energy is subsidised whereever it is used.

  85. Richard I am not. You stated that the price of gas was fixed on the price of oil.
    And the reason quoted globally for subsidies on renewables is the intermittent nature of same. The S of I proposal is designed to remove that aspect of all renewables and in fact would impact positively on the cost base of thermal plants as well. And the fact remains that renewables do not have a fuel cost, although they do like every other industry have a capital cost to use them, S of I have plans to curtail those capital costs also.

    Pat Gill

  86. @Pat
    It is news to me that renewables are subsidised because of intermittency. I am delighted to learn that SoI will not just fix our energy and economy, but the global capital market as well. Next step: World peace?

  87. No Richard I would be quite happy to see a sensible energy policy for Ireland. I and S of I are quite well aware of our limitations, but also aware of our facts. And yet again you seem to believe that S of I want to impose our views on anyone, we are asking the question, is it wise to be dependent on other nations for ALL of our energy, when we could have a measure of IN-dependency and the country could be in a better financial position.
    It doesn’t even have to affect our current energy regime, it might even be decided to export all of our renewable energy. But the question will be asked.

    Pat Gill

  88. @Donal
    Nothing to hide. Igor Shvets claims that I sent him three emails, but my server is adamant that there were only two. The first one is copied above. The second one briefly states that I think he is a waste of time.

  89. Donal,
    It is nice to know one’s worth to society, don’t you think. That is perhaps why I was asked to study wikipedia articles
    Pat Gill

  90. Pat,

    Indeed. I’m guessing any different view is a waste of time.
    I think Igor should post all three to clarify the matter.

    Eoin

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