Photo: Illustration; Source: Siemens Gamesa (archive)

Ireland’s new legislation to ease offshore wind development

Irish Government is working on a new maritime planning bill that would remove the regulative and administrative challenges present under the current act and allow for faster realisation of offshore wind projects.

The Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Bill will also establish a new agency, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA), to regulate development in Ireland’s Maritime Area.

“We are now on a determined and irreversible journey away from fossil fuels towards renewables”, said Peter Burke, Irish Minister for Local Government and Planning. “As part of the decarbonisation Programme, Government has set very ambitious targets for deployment of offshore wind. The Maritime Area Planning Bill is a key enabler of Ireland’s decarbonisation goals and as such, Government is committed to prioritising the passage of a balanced and Aarhus-compliant MAP Bill through the Oireachtas”.

According to Minister Burke, the government has received more than 50 site investigation applications for offshore wind over the last two years, with 24 received since September 2020 alone.

“I am delighted to see the strong interest from developers in seeking to advance offshore wind projects in the new Irish maritime area which will, from Government’s perspective, help to achieve the aim of decarbonising energy production whilst generating new, quality jobs across the country”, Peter Burke said.

The increase in offshore wind development demand, together with the commitment to meet Ireland’s targets for reducing carbon emissions and renewable energy, has led to a significant increase in related foreshore consenting activity.

Under the current regulatory regime, the application processes for development and State property consent are cpmlex and challenging. Furthermore, various issues arising from the lease and licensing processes, and the management of some 2,200 existing leases and licences involve a range of complex legal, financial and technical matters for consideration. 

The new MAP Bill will replace the existing foreshore consenting and provide for a completely new State consent regime for the entire maritime area, integrating development consenting into the planning permission system.

“The Bill provides the legal underpinning to an entirely new marine planning system, which will balance harnessing our huge offshore wind potential with protecting our rich and unique marine environment”, Minister Burke said.

The new bill will also promote robust compliance and enforcement through the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority. MARA will be established as an enforcement agency and will also take on the role of assessing and granting all Maritime Area Consents as well as licensing a number of activities in the Maritime Area. MARA will also manage the existing State Foreshore portfolio of leases and licences.

Irish Government has also been developing a National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), a long-term forward planning component of the new marine planning system, which will be established in the coming weeks.

The Irish Government announced its Climate Action Plan in 2019, setting a target of generating 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with at least 3.5 GW of offshore wind, which was increased to 5 GW last year.

Meanwhile, several offshore wind developers have lined up to tap into the opportunities off the Irish coast.

At the beginning of this month, Ocean Winds (OW) revealed it was evaluating the expansion of its global offshore wind portfolio to include Ireland. Spanish energy company Iberdrola has also made its move in the country, announcing in February that it will take a majority stake in DP Energy’s 3 GW offshore wind pipeline, marking its entry into the Irish offshore wind market.

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Equinor and Irish energy company ESB also recently informed that they would jointly develop a 1.4 GW floating offshore wind farm off the West Coast of Ireland.

In January, Dutch oil and gas major Shell announced it was taking a majority stake in the 1 GW Emerald floating wind project. Shell New Energies, the renewable energy trading, generation, and supply arm of Shell, signed an agreement with Simply Blue Energy to acquire 51% in Simply Blue Energy’s Kinsale venture, which has been set up to develop the Emerald floating wind project in the Celtic Sea, off the south coast of Ireland.