Decisions the Government will make over the next 12 months will decide whether we can build enough offshore wind energy to reach our 2030 climate action targets, writes Wind Energy Ireland CEO David Connolly.
At the end of 2020 we published Building Offshore Wind, which shows how the Programme for Government’s target of 5GW of offshore wind energy can be met.
The main conclusion was stark. If a project does not have planning permission by the end of 2025 it will not be built by the end of the decade. It means today, as I write, we are on course to fall short of our targets unless immediate action is taken.
The problem is not a lack of projects. We have more than 16GW of offshore wind at some stage of development off our coast but we do not have a planning regime, there is no system for projects to connect to the electricity grid and no way for them to sell their power on the market.
In Building Offshore Wind, we made eight recommendations that are essential to enable industry to develop the projects in time. The four most critical are:
- enact the Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) Bill by the end of Q1 2021;
- set clear statutory deadlines for decisions on wind farm planning applications and provide An Bord Pleanála with the staff and additional expertise to process applications promptly;
- start now to develop the transmission system on the east coast to integrate the power from these offshore wind farms; and
- hold the first offshore wind energy auction as soon as possible in 2021.
There is some good news. The Oireachtas Housing Committee has reviewed the draft MPDM Bill and a complete Bill could be published in time to make the Q1 deadline. Minister Eamon Ryan has committed to an offshore auction later this year and his officials are clearly determined to meet that target.
There has been a substantial increase in the time and energy the Government is putting into the development of offshore wind.
But the scale of what we are being asked to accomplish is unlike anything ever done in Ireland before. Building
5GW of offshore wind energy in 10 years – in effect creating an entirely new industry from scratch – requires urgent, rapid and coordinated policy development.
It needs to include a wide range of Government departments, State agencies and other key stakeholders, particularly coastal and fishing communities.
We are moving in the right direction, but we are walking when we need to be running.
Reinforcing the grid
The single biggest barrier to the development of offshore wind energy is Ireland’s electricity transmission grid. EirGrid estimates that the east coast of Ireland can accommodate approximately 2GW of wind energy, yet the Programme for Government ambition is for 5GW.
Our members will not build wind farms to sit idle. We must get the power to shore. Industry needs to know that EirGrid and ESB Networks will have the support they need to develop the grid and to have the confidence it will be reinforced in time for our wind farms to connect.
This work needs to start immediately if it is to be completed in time to ensure the Ireland of 2030 is one that is chiefly powered by renewable energy.
Dr David Connolly is CEO of Wind Energy Ireland
T: 045 899 341