The Programme for Government commits to the deliverance of “at least” 70 per cent renewable electricity by 2030. Key to this will be the first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) offshore wind auction, to be held in 2021.
The first of the RESS auctions was deemed provisionally successful in August 2020, with the results confirmed in September affirming the awarding of 19 onshore wind and 63 solar projects. The 82 projects will amount to 1,275.56MW.
The RESS is a competitive auction-based scheme that invites renewable energy projects to bid for capacity with a guaranteed price for the amount of power generated for a maximum of 16 years. It will operate for a five-year period to 2025, with extension subject to evaluation.
Despite its eligibility for the first RESS auction, offshore wind was held off on and will receive its own ring-fenced capacity in the second auction, due to take place this year. In 2019, then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton said that “future auction rounds will deliver a major up-scaling in offshore wind capacity with at least 3.5 gigawatts by the end of 2030”.
In 2020, the Government set a new target of 5GW of installed offshore wind power to be delivered by 2030, which led to SSE Renewables’ Director of Capital Projects, Paul Cooley to estimate that 1GW would need to be installed by 2025 in order to meet this target.
Currently, Ireland has 25MW of installed offshore wind capacity at the Arklow Bank Wind park, which will eventually reach a capacity of 520MW, meaning that significant capacity will need to be guaranteed at the RESS auction. The installation of offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea is thought to be key for the meeting of targets set out by the Government within its lifetime as it seeks to build on its own Climate Action Plan and the Programme for Government.
While no dates for the auction have been publicly confirmed as yet, steps have been taken towards taking capacity to market, such as the Marine Planning and Development Management Act in 2019 and the offering of grid connections to the legacy projects that had already received planning consent under previous Foreshoring Acts.
The qualification process for the second RESS auction is due to open in quarter two of 2021, with the auction itself also to be held in the same quarter, meaning that the picture around what is ti come in Irish offshore wind should be much clearer by July 2021. With the stepping up of the offshore wind target, from the Climate Action Plan’s aim of 3.5GW to the current 5GW, and the fast-tracking of seven offshore wind farms in 2020, it is clear that there is great hope for what the island can deliver, not only in terms of renewable energy, but also in terms of the jobs created and the native industry the projects will cultivate.
Speaking with eolas Magazine, Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan TD said: “We’ll hold an auction towards the end of this year. We will start in the Irish Sea with about 2.5GW of offshore wind. That will be the first step, with construction in the middle of this decade all being well.”
If Ireland is to break the 1GW goal by 2025 on its way to 5GW by 2030, all eyes will be on quarter two of 2021 and the first RESS auction where offshore wind will take the centre stage.