Evermore’s first project was the Lisahally Power Station - the largest green energy power station in the region which is now fully operational and produces green energy for over 30,000 homes and businesses. They are now at an advanced stage of their next project, the Belfast Power Station, which once operational could power half of Northern Ireland’s entire electricity needs. The Devine Brothers have a pipeline of over £400m worth of energy projects under development and their projects range from energy storage, to energy generation as well as a new Electric Vehicle Charging Network.
Now nominated as finalists in the PWC Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2018 Private Business Awards the pair shared an insight into setting their business up.
“When we started out looking to do something no-one else was doing, we were 25 and 26 years old. A few years later, we had raised £83 million of investment and had built Northern Ireland’s first biomass power station,” said Ciaran. “Once we’d reached financial close we felt like we we’d made it but that was when the work really began and has continued ever since."
The spark that led to the decision to look into renewable energy originally came from Stephen.
"Northern Ireland was doing really well with wind energy projects with lots of land owners putting up turbines. But there were very little alternatives to creating renewable energy from non-wind sources,” says Ciaran. “So we considered the potential alternatives. Industrial scale solar was not proven at that time because – well, we live in Northern Ireland and Anaerobic Digestion was still in its infancy - but we both liked the idea of developing a biomass project.”
“The timing was perfect for both of us as Ciaran had returned to Northern Ireland after qualifying as a stock broker in London and I had just completed my MBA at Queens after working for a time with KPMG. We were looking to take our combined interests in business and finance into something more dynamic,” Stephen continued.
"Our original ideas were for much smaller projects but after much research into the area of green energy we decided to focus on a much larger biomass project that would have a real impact on the NI Renewable Energy targets,” said Ciaran.
“Our first trip was to Wales where we visited a Danish Contractor called Burmeister and Wain Scandinavian Contractors (BWSC) who had built a biomass project that was using wood chip to generate green electricity in Port Talbot. When we returned home from the visit to Wales we were really inspired by what we had seen, so we decided to look for a similar site in Northern Ireland. After visiting some potential sites we found a great site at Lisahally, beside Coolkeragh Power Station in Derry. We worked together with the Foyle Port who had a lot of experience in handling woodchip and who were really keen to support the new project” explained Ciaran.
“Most of the early parts of the planning application we were doing on the kitchen table. We had a limited budget but a huge amount of tenacity and self-belief in what we were doing,” said Ciaran.
Stephen says getting across the first stage required a mammoth effort. “We paid for the best consultants we could afford at the time to do the environmental consultancy work and after we’d prepared multiple drafts of the planning documents we were happy that we had put together an excellent application which we finally submitted. Following an intense six months process with the relevant authorities we eventually got the green light.”
One of the key components of any biomass project is its long-term fuel supply. "We worked very closely with Stobart Biomass in the UK and it took us a lot of time to get this contract over the line. Eventually we shook hands on the deal and they agreed to supply the project with a 15 year fuel supply contract,” said Ciaran.
The Devine brothers worked closely with a number of electricity companies who were keen to purchase all of the power station’s green electricity. They decided to go with Northern Ireland's largest power company Power NI who provided the project with a 15-year power purchase agreement.
After 12 months of intense due diligence, the brothers had secured the support of Investec, Green Investment Bank, Gravis and Foresight who among them agreed to fund the £83 million of project finance. The focus then was to deliver the project on time and on budget whilst keeping the funders updated as the project moved from a construction site into an operational business.
“What kept us going throughout the project is knowing we have a great team with us. Our funders, our partners and our own team have all shown real commitment to this project from the start. Equally the plant operators and our fuel suppliers have been fantastic – they’ve shown us they will do everything they can to deliver what we need – even if it means working right through the night.”
Evermore is now committed to developing the £280m Belfast Power Station which once operational will be the most efficient power station on the Island of Ireland and will deliver power to almost 50% of the homes and businesses across the province. “The grid operators want flexible plants with low minimum stable generation. Knowing that renewables are the future, our new project is able to reduce output when the wind is high and quickly get back to full load when the wind drops" explained Stephen.
It’s been a rollercoaster for the brothers, but they relish the fast pace of the energy industry as well as the opportunity to work with so many different groups of talented people to help turn their ideas into reality.
Ciaran sums it up: "Stephen and I have never doubted ourselves in driving our ideas and our projects forward. We fully commit to investing our time and energy into what will gives us the best chance of delivering what we set out to do."