Energy firm Gaelectric pulls plug on Larne power plant

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The developer behind plans for a multi-million pound green energy facility in Larne has revealed it is seeking an alternative site for the project.

Back in 2013, Dublin-based renewable energy company Gaelectric announced its intention to build a compressed air energy storage (CAES) facility – only the third of its kind anywhere in the world – on the outskirts of the town.

The project would see the creation of underground caverns to store energy in the form of compressed air, which would then be released to generate electricity when demand is high.

Salt deposits about 600-900m below ground at Carnduff had been selected as an ideal location for the storage caverns to be created, with a power station to be located directly above.

But Gaelectric has told the Times that a recent technological breakthrough has presented the company with an opportunity to use alternative sites, particularly in the Islandmagee area, where the salt layer reaches greater depths of up to 1800m.

Patrick McClughan, head of corporate affairs for Gaelectric, confirmed the company is now shelving its plans for the Carnduff site and shifting its focus to Islandmagee.

He added: “As the project design has progressed, we have considered alternative technologies and routes that would allow for increased efficiency and reduced environmental impacts.

“An alternative technology, which has been successfully investigated since mid-2014, conclusively allows CAES technology to operate at greater depths.

“We are now actively searching for sites in the Islandmagee area, with particular focus on the area between Ballylumford power station and the Moyle Interconnector.”

The CAES station will require connections to electricity and natural gas networks, as well as pipelines to the coast for brine – a by-product from the creation of the caverns – to be discharged into the sea.

“Locating the facility in Islandmagee would significantly reduce the impact on the environment, as well as increase the capacity for electricity generation from 268MW to a potential 330MWMW,” Mr McClughan said.

Gaelectric plans to carry out test drilling in the area later this year.

The company has already spoken to land owners and will be carrying out a leaflet drop in the area, as well as holding community consultation events.

Inver resident Anne Mundell said she was pleased Gaelectric’s focus had shifted, but added she still opposes the project “in principle”.

Meanwhile, oil and gas exploration firm Infrastrata is also forging ahead with plans for a gas storage project at Islandmagee. The project involves creating caverns to store 500 million cubic metres of natural gas beneath Larne Lough.