Gaelectric eyes site near Ballylumford for Islandmagee CAES plant

A map of the proposed new Gaelectric CAES station, pipe and well pads. INLT-34-703-con
A map of the proposed new Gaelectric CAES station, pipe and well pads. INLT-34-703-con

Gaelectric has identified a potential site for its new CAES power station in Islandmagee, which the firm hopes to have “shovel-ready” for 2016.

The proposed site, which is across the road from the Moyle Interconnector and behind Ballylumford Power Station, was revealed at the firm’s sixth community consultation event at Islandmagee First Presbyterian Church on August 12.

The £300million plant, originally expected to have been situated in Carnduff, is only the third of its kind in the world.

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

Gaelectric CEO Brendan McGrath, who was at the consultation event, told the Times: “At the moment we have located the site beside the interconnector, we will be next door neighours with it.

“It will be beside the substation and behind Ballylumford power plant. There would be a new junction created at Ballylumford Road, extending south east and across the Quarterlands Road and leading south on to the CAES Site.”

Mr McGrath said the project would be “naturally protected from a visual point of view.”

“It always will have an impact,” he stated.

“Within certain boundaries we are trying to pick a place that is cloaked in the natural environment in a valley, rather than Carnduff which was on top of a hill.”

Despite concerns over the project’s impact on the environment, particularly due to the dispersal of brine into the marine environment, Mr McGrath says the wildlife “will just move out of the area.”

“It will only effect something that can’t move and the environment will take twelve months to get back to normal after we finish pumping out the brine,” he added.

Mr McGrath also says believes that the project won’t have any effect on the area’s new flagship tourist attraction, The Gobbins Cliff Path.

“It will be a tourist attraction in itself,” he commented.

“It will have a very unique position in Europe as the first of these plants that has been built to ensure that the level of renewables available on the island can be used for the maximum extent and benefit. On a European level it will be a beacon for change.”

According to Gaelectric, The Larne CAES Project will have the capacity to generate between 268 and 330 MW of power for periods of up to 6 hours, which will have the capability of meeting the power needs of approximately 160,000 households.

Mr McGrath says that the plant will generate £8-900 million for the Northern Ireland economy over the course of its 30 year lifetime.

While other forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind energy have been viewed as unpredicatable, Mr McGrath says that the technology available at the CAES plant will be “more flexible,” meaning that it can respond to supply and demand.

The CEO said that the current plans had not been finalised, and that there would be another consultation with the public and pre-application discussion before any final plans would be submitted, which the company hoped would be in November of this year.

While the building of the plant, well pads, geological storage caverns and associated developments was opposed by residents in Carnduff, Mr McGrath says he believes that people in Is;andmagee are “more receptive than the previous site.”

“For previous projects there was no community compensation in Islandmagee,” he stated.

“We come from a background of building windfarms and when each windfarm is build a community fund is put in place that the community can access over a period of time and we do that at arm’s length through a Trust that is run with the community and is available to them .

“We make the funds available and the community decide what to do with the money.

Aquafact’s Brendan O’Connor, who is working as a consultant for Gaelectric’s on marine issues, says that the marine life living at the brine pipe discharge point will be resilient enough to fully recover from the effects of the brine discharge within three years.

“The salinity levels will go back to normal within two tiday cycles or 24 hours, “ he stated.

“There will be regrowth on the sea bed after a year and after three years it will be back to normal.”

Regarding concerns over the effect of the brine on fish species, Mr O’Connor says that mobile species such as lobsters will simply “walk away.”

“There will be some animals that will die,” he admitted.

“Animals like sea anemones that can’t walk or move, if they are right beside the outflow pipe then they will die.

“There is no plant growth down there as the light isn’t strong enough.There will be a lot of monitoring,

“There is a high resilience in the system.”

Mr O’Connor said that the problem of juvenile fish being sucked into the pipe could be solved with a mesh.

Regarding the brine dispersal pattern, Mr O’Connor predicts it will move in an “eliptical shape” with the tide, and that the water depth and tidal velocity make the location a good dispersal point.

However, Treasurer of Islandmagee Community Association Frank Graham says he is “very disappointed” that the CAES project has been “dumped” on Islandmagee residents.

“We have the Ballylumford A and B stations, the new gas interconnector and the Infrastrata projects here already,” he told the Times.

“We have a lot of industry down there and residents don’t get any benefit.

“The electricity goes out to Ballynure and is transferred outside, the gas goes elsewhere.”

Mr Graham expressed his fears for fish life such as sand eels.

Despite Gaelectric consultant Louis Wildenboer’s statement that the company “preferred to employ local people”who had the right skillset, Mr Graham queried the employment benefits for locals, asking if the jobs would definitely be given to local people.