Innovate | New Designs in Wind Power
In 1989, a staff scientist approached Eddie O'Connor with an unwelcome bit of news. O'Connor was CEO of Bord na Mona, also known as the Irish Peat Board, whose main endeavor was sending backhoes into Ireland's bogs and moors to dig up peat--decayed plant matter that over centuries accumulates tons of carbon. By burning it, Bord na Mona produced 12 percent of Ireland's electricity.
The scientist told O'Connor that the board's business plan had a serious flaw. The company was producing 10 million tons of greenhouse gases, a term new to O'Connor. "I found out I was Ireland's leading polluter," O'Connor recalled, "and I had to ask myself what I was going to do about it."
So he left peat behind to found Airtricity, one of Ireland's first and largest wind companies, which he sold in 2008 for $1.8 billion euros.
O'Connor, 62, isn't afraid to offend, on his opinionated blog (eddie.mainstreamrp.com) or in interviews. "The lack of vision in my U.S. colleagues is startling," he said of corporate America's skittishness toward a national energy plan. "We are laying down the infrastructure for the next 100 years, and you have to have the involvement of the state to do that."
O'Connor's latest venture, Mainstream Renewable Power, is building offshore wind farms in Chile, South Africa, and Scotland, the latter a 420-megawatt project in Forth Estuary. Meanwhile, Bord na Mona, down to a 20-year supply of peat, is building a 320-megawatt wind farm in County Mayo. It will be one of the largest land-based wind farms in Europe, powering upward of 300,000 homes. —David Ferris
Infographic: Brian Kaas; photo: Mainstream Renewable Power