Posted on Wednesday 25 January 2017 by Ulster Business
Take a look at these two faces and remember them. The two unassuming north west brothers are creating hundreds of jobs, raising finance, driving the economy and helping wean Northern Ireland off fossil fuels.
In their 20s they were working on their first project, a renewable heat plant in Londonderry Harbour and Port which runs off wood chips and produces enough electricity to supply 25,000 homes and by the time Stephen - the elder by two years - was 30 in 2013 they had raised the £81m needed to fund the project.
Around 250 jobs were created during its construction and 20 full time posts to run the plant.
That’s quite an undertaking and one which would have deterred lesser men, but not the Devine brothers.
“At the time we were looking to start the business, property was crashing and people around us were moving away,” Ciaran told Ulster Business. “We decided to create a project in the north west which would give us a reason to stay here in Northern Ireland.”
And that they did, taking the lead from Stephen’s experience working in the renewables sector for KPMG.
“We realised that Northern Ireland was actually doing really well when it came to wind generation but trailing behind when it came to renewable energy from non-wind sources.”
A closer inspection of other renewables followed with the duo eventually settling on biomass and going to see an operational plant run by Danish company BWSC which gave them food for thought.
Although it ran on virgin wood, the key to the Devine brothers’ plan was being able to use recycled woodchip to run their plant and it wasn’t long before they had partnered with BWSC with a 15-year agreement for the Danish company to build and run the plant.
They then found the site at Lisahally – one which allowed easy import of woodchip either from Northern Ireland or by boat from further afield and was also next to Coolkeeragh power station for easy export of electricity - agreed a 15-year supply deal with Stobart Renewables – part of the Eddie Stobart haulage firm – and a 15-year power purchase agreement with Power NI.
Even with those agreements in place it still took a year to raise the money to fund the project but it’s now up and running, 50% on woodchip from Northern Ireland which would normally be sent to landfill.
But there was barely time to rest on their laurels before the duo came up with their next plan, this time a gas power station in Belfast.
“We really wanted to develop another project in Northern Ireland and knew that after 2020 the ageing power stations here would be reaching the end of their lives. There was a huge opportunity to build a state-of-the-art power station which is hugely efficient using combined cycle gas turbine technology.”
With the idea crystallized, a site in Belfast Harbour next door to Bombardier was found and an agreement signed with Siemens to develop the technology.
They’re now in the process of raising the £280m needed to fund the project, one which is expected to supply 50% of Northern Ireland’s total electricity needs when it’s completed in 2021/22.
Ciaran said it will create 700 jobs during its construction and 50 highly-skilled engineering jobs once up and running.
“Northern Ireland has a looming energy crisis so we wanted to make an investment that addresses that and focuses on efficient generation.”
Initial investment for the project has already been secured from Belfast-based Crescent Capital and Ciaran and Stephen are working on the remainder.
Given their previous experience in the area, it won’t be long before the first sod is cut on this latest power plant, one that will probably lead to many more.