Fast-track to offshore wind projects to drive down electricity prices, Ryan says

According to Environment and Climate Secretary Eamon Ryan, a new permitting regime for large offshore wind developments will provide security for developers while reducing electricity prices and dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come.

The new maritime regulatory regime will be put in place to speed up offshore wind projects using fixed and floating turbines while enhancing national energy security, he said.

The regime is backed by sound planning and the highest environmental standards, which should also provide peace of mind for coastal communities, Ryan said.

Combined with dedicated offshore renewable energy auctions, where the cheapest power supplies would win contracts, this would ensure lower electricity prices and “the more we build, the cheaper it gets”.

Mr Ryan said he will issue interim marine area permits (MACs) to renewable energy developers who meet the relevant assessment criteria to be considered in the planning system – applications open from April 25.

Developers must have a MAC with completed environmental reviews in order to apply for approval to An Bord Pleanála. A total of 5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind is planned by 2030 – enough to power 5 million homes.

Mr. Ryan will evaluate MAC applicants in key areas including financial and technical competency. This will ensure that only the most profitable offshore projects have the opportunity to apply for a permit, streamlining the process, he said. The first permits are expected to be issued this year.

Leading Producer

Ireland’s sea area is seven times the size of its landmass. This, combined with the extensive wind resources and location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, makes the potential for offshore wind power enormous, he said, and would allow the country to become a leading wind power producer in Europe.

However, wind industry officials have pointed to planning uncertainties that are causing delays in project rollout timelines. But the minister insisted the changes brought reassurance. “In one of the windiest places on earth…expansion starts today,” Ryan said.

Eirgrid was given a key task to figure out how this renewable resource would be connected to the national grid and converted into green hydrogen to export the gas and overcome any disruption in wind. This, with further interconnectors to Great Britain and France and in good time with other countries, would offer further security.

Aboard the Geological Survey of Ireland vessel RV Mallet, Mr Ryan said: “Today is a tangible milestone on our journey to 80 per cent renewable electricity by 2030… The door is now open for a range of developers to make progress on their offshore wind energy projects. This is an opportunity to get away from fossil fuels to blame Mr Putin for saying we won’t be using your gas in the future; we have our own supply.”

He added: “The development of our offshore wind energy capacity will reduce and eventually eliminate our dependence on imported fossil fuels and bring an unprecedented reduction in CO2 emissions.”

The MAC regime is envisaged in the recently enacted Maritime Area Planning Act. A new agency, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, is scheduled to take over in early 2023. Meanwhile, the Minister is empowered to assess the first batch of MAC applications from a series of seven qualifying offshore renewable energy projects that have been classified as “relevant projects”.

With a capacity of 3 GW with fixed turbines, these are:

– Oriel wind farm off Dundalk

– Two RWE projects at Bray and Kish Banks outside Dublin

– Two Codling Wind Park projects off Co Wicklow

– Fuinneamh Sceirde Teoranta (FST) at Skerd Rocks off Connemara, Co Galway

– North Irish Sea Array Ltd at North Irish Sea Array

A total of 57 developers have expressed interest in Irish offshore wind development.

Mr Ryan confirmed that hundreds of millions of euros would need to be invested in Irish ports to facilitate the maintenance and deployment of projects and the manufacture of turbine technology from 2026 onwards.

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