ESB International (ESBI) has entered an agreement with the pioneering tidal energy company Marine Current Turbines (MCT) to develop an initial phase of a 100MW tidal energy project off the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland.

ESBI and MCT will work together to submit a proposal to the forthcoming Marine Leasing Round in Northern Ireland to secure an agreement for lease from the Crown Estate to commence formal consenting of the project. If successful, and subject to the achievement of consent, the initial phase of the project, which will use the MCT SeaGen device, could be in operation by 2018. The ESBI/MCT project will assist Northern Ireland in achieving its marine renewable energy targets as outlined in the DETI Strategic Action Plan which calls for 300MW of tidal energy by 2020.

SeaGen is the largest and most powerful tidal stream turbine in the world and the only one that is regularly generating electricity for customers, having been accredited by OFGEM, the UK industry regulator, as an ‘official’ power station. The award-winning 1.2MW turbine has been operating in Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough since April 2008 and last month (August) achieved another operational milestone by delivering its two millionth kWh of power to the grid. Thanks to Strangford being an exceptionally energetic location, SeaGen regularly produces as much electricity as an average offshore wind turbine of double the rated power. This power is already being sold by ESB’s retail electricity supply business, ESB Independent Energy, to customers in Northern Ireland.

Safeguarding the environment is a key issue and ESBI is preparing an environmental scoping report on the project as an initial step in undertaking a full environmental impact assessment. In order to gain a thorough understanding of the tidal potential, ESBI has also undertaken tidal resource measurements off the Antrim coast over the summer months. This data is currently being analysed and it is planned to undertake further surveys in the coming months.

ESB chief executive, Padraig McManus, said ESB’s strategy to 2020 involves focusing on sustainable and renewable energies. “We look forward to working with MCT on this exciting new project. Our aim is to use our experience and technical strength to support the development of a viable ocean energy industry in Ireland and this project is an important step in realising that goal,” he said.

Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbines, said: “This agreement underlines the success to date of the SeaGen project in Strangford Lough but importantly the real and growing commercial interest in tidal energy. Our agreement with ESBI, which has been a valued shareholder in MCT for two and a half years, confirms MCT’s tidal technology at being in the forefront in the race to harness the power of tides. We are pleased that ESBI has chosen MCT to develop the initial phase of this project.”