Ireland has one of Europe’s highest average wind speeds and a vast maritime area seven times the size of our landmass. Given this natural advantage, offshore wind power will play an essential role in our future electricity generation by developing both fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind farms. Offshore wind development will support international, European, and local climate change and renewable energy policies. It will also play a critical role in helping the Irish Government on its legally binding path to net-zero emissions no later than 2050, as well as the target for 7 GW of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030.
In December 2022, the first Maritime Area Consents were granted to seven renewable energy projects, which together make up Phase One, representing a significant milestone in the delivery of offshore wind in Ireland. These projects will compete in ORESS 1 later this month, the first auction for offshore wind under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS). In March 2023, the Government published the ‘Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind’, which seeks to provide clarity for all stakeholders on the future direction of offshore wind development in Ireland. Phase Two projects will bridge the gap between what will be delivered by Phase One projects and the Climate Action Plan’s target of 5 GW of grid-connected offshore wind by 2030. An additional target to enable a further 2 GW of floating offshore wind for non-grid opportunities to be in development by the end of this decade will be delivered by Phase Three projects. The Phase Two Policy Statement contained an unexpected policy change by the Government, namely that Phase Two projects will now be built under a plan-led approach rather than a project-led approach. This means that developers will no longer be able to choose their own sites for Phase Two projects and instead can only build within Designated Marine Area Plans (DMAPs), which have yet to be identified. Additionally, the framework proposes that future offshore wind farms will connect into offshore substations developed by EirGrid, rather than to points on land.
What are the implications of a plan-led approach?
The Government’s position is that a plan-led approach will reduce overall project risk and provide developers with a clear path to securing planning permission by identifying DMAPs. The State can also exert greater influence over certain aspects of an offshore wind project. For example, it can ensure that access to the grid, environmental constraints, capacity of regulatory systems, and other marine users are fully assessed prior to the designation of DMAPs. Minister Eamonn Ryan has stated that this approach will work better for the country and that the current, free-for-all approach “will not work for the collective good”.
However, the approach has been criticised by several developers, as well as Wind Energy Ireland. In addition to undermining efforts to achieve Ireland’s offshore wind targets, the sudden and last-minute shift in policy has led to confusion and uncertainty around the future of Irish offshore renewable energy. Greater challenges now associated with Phase Two projects have the potential to damage developer and investor confidence in the Irish offshore sector, and a significant portion of projects in the offshore pipeline is now believed to be at risk. In a note to members, Wind Energy Ireland said that it is aware of companies that have already begun to redeploy staff to projects outside of Ireland, while others have cancelled planned survey or engagement activity for 2023.
Going forward, attention will turn to how the Government will deploy resources and create DMAPs as quickly as possible. What remains clear is that offshore wind has a big future in Ireland. In a month when the EU also announced a provisional political agreement to raise the share of renewable energy in the EU’s overall energy consumption, meeting both our domestic and European targets will be a huge challenge. Offshore wind development is critical if we are to reduce our carbon emissions and reduce our dependency on imported fossil fuels. Its delivery will require a concerted effort from Government and industry alike.