2,000 jobs are to be created in 40 new wind farms by 2018 in an €8 billion project, an Irish subsidiary of a US group has announced.
Element Power has signed a contract with Britain’s electricity grid to supply it with renewable energy over two dedicated subsea cables from Ireland to Wales.
The new wind farms are proposed for Co Meath, Westmeath, Kildare, Laois and Offaly.
Element Power says it is in discussions with An Bord Pleanala about making a planning application under a process for major infrastructural projects. It has begun negotiations with land owners.
The company says there will be no overhead lines from the wind farms as cables will be laid on the verge of public roads in a similar manner to phone lines.
Element Power says it will avoid environmentally sensitive areas.
Mr O'Neill also added that this would not be one "mega project," but would be a number of small wind farms that will appear similar to existing wind energy projects in the country.
"We've been very sensitive about where these projects are situated, we're avoiding environmentally sensitive areas, these are in low land positions, therefore the visual impact of the project is minimised, so we're trying to be as sensitive as we can to this.
"This should be seen as a real opportunity for Ireland. We're harnessing surplus wind energy here and its and €8bn project, that's going to create thousands of jobs for Ireland in construction work, and again long term work over 25 to 30 years."
Earlier, he said that up to 10,000 jobs would be created in the development and construction stages of the project, while 2,000 long term jobs would be created in operations, maintenance and engineering.
Separately, Element Power, which has operations in 12 countries, has signed a contract to supply €1.2bn of electricity to Britain’s National Grid UK.
The project is being financed by investment from its parent US private equity group Hudson Clean Energy Partners.
In a statement, National Grid UK, the operator of the UK electricity network, confirmed that a firm grid connection of 3,000 megawatts has been awarded to global renewable energy developer, Element Power.
It said "this is the first such dedicated UK connection offered to an Irish renewable energy exporter and enables Element Power to progress 'Greenwire' - a series of connected projects exporting wind power generated in the Midlands of Ireland to the UK via two independent subsea cables."
Concerns raised by Donegal group
Patricia Sharkey of Gweebarra Conservation Group said lessons needed to be learned from the experience of wind energy in Co. Donegal.
She said that their group represents 1,000 residents in Donegal and that local consultation in wind projects was vital.
She said that health and environmental concerns had to be addressed and that a comprehensive breakdown of the expected job numbers was needed.