Growth of offshore wind energy threatened by planning delays , committee told

Targets will be unobtainable if system is not refined says head of Wind Energy Ireland

Ireland’s plan to be a global player in offshore wind energy is realisable but risks being derailed by planning delays, uncertainty over delivery timelines and high renewable energy costs.

That was the emphatic message delivered by those involved in the sector to the Oireachtas Environment and Climate Action Committee yesterday.

It is evaluating how best to deliver offshore renewable energy .

"Our climate action plan targets are at serious risk. We must cut our carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes per annum by 2030. We cannot achieve this without 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy connected to the system," said Wind Energy Ireland chief executive Noel Cunniffe.


“The problem is not a lack of projects....we have over [20GW]of capacity under development. We have the projects. We have the investment. We have the teams who can deliver. But this does not change the fact that we are losing time,” he said.

Whether the Government’s targets for wind energy generation are met, he said, depends on whether the required investment in planning procedures is made and processes involved improved so as to make projects deliverable.

Each offshore wind farm would be one of the largest infrastructure projects delivered in Ireland in a generation, Mr Cunniffe said.

“They are large, complex and highly technical pieces of infrastructure. The planning applications for permission to build them must be thoroughly and robustly scrutinised.”

For this to happen far more resources were needed in An Bord Pleanála and other bodies such as the National Parks & Wildlife Service, "and there must be increased funding for environmental stakeholders working to protect our marine biodiversity", he said.

“If a project takes 18-24 months to get planning consent and another 18-24 months to survive a judicial review the chances of that project being connected by 2030 are extremely slim,” Mr Cunniffe noted.

High rates and long planning timelines compared to other jurisdictions are currently contributing to high renewable energy prices, which were double those of Spain, Mr Cunniffe said.

Ireland had a rare opportunity to create a global offshore wind industry given its seabed resource, particularly off our west coast, said Jim Dollard, director of ESB Generation and Trading. "Our offshore wind potential can be harnessed to create green hydrogen, a clean fuel source which can be stored. The capability to create and store green hydrogen is a critical step in delivering a net zero society - the ability to store clean energy from renewables which can be used when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining."

The ESB is currently developing 3.5 GW of offshore wind capacity around Ireland, he told the Committee. This includes seven projects around the east, south and west coasts. One of these was off the coast from Moneypoint in the Shannon estuary, while there was potential to develop other similar projects “that could transform Ireland into a global renewable energy hub”.

Outside of the east coast, most of the sea and ocean areas around Ireland had a depth greater than 60 metres, and therefore were unsuitable for fixed bottom offshore wind. As a result, the long-term future would be primarily based on floating technology, Mr Dollard said. “Ireland needs to accelerate the development of floating wind if it expects to capture the full potential of the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean beyond 2030.”

Frank Daly of the Irish-German Hydrogen Council (IGHC) said Germany's projected demand for hydrogen in 2030 to feed industries like chemical and steel production amounted to 15 per cent of its energy demand. "To de-carbonise these hard to de-carbonise industrial sectors, Germany needs to import the vast majority of its green hydrogen."

“Ireland’s energy profile is complementary to Germany’s. We do not have the large heavy industry that Germany has but we do have vast renewable energy potential, particularly off our coasts. We firmly believe that Ireland has the potential to position itself as an exporter of hydrogen to Germany if these resources are fully utilised,” he added.

In light of war in Ukraine, Germany had decided to fast-track two hydrogen-friend liquefied natural gas plants to ensure its energy independence, he confirmed.

Committee chairman and Green TD Brian Leddin raised the issue of Ireland scaling up its efforts to shift to renewables given the war and related energy issues. "Europe needs to look to the west, to friendly countries, for its energy. The question is can we do this at scale, and can we do it more quickly?"

This would have to be considered by “we in the political system”, he added, noting that in a wartime situation sometimes things have to happen more quickly.

Mr Dollard said producing 5GW of offshore wind was technically feasible, “and from an energy security point of view, it should be done”.

Dr Stefan Kaufmann, innovation commissioner for green hydrogen with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research said he was convinced Ireland had the potential to be a significant player in the world of hydrogen.

“As an island nation, one of Ireland’s greatest challenges is delivering the excess hydrogen it will produce to markets in mainland Europe. My department is currently preparing a proposal to conduct a study in partnership with Ireland on an end to end study on delivering Irish green hydrogen from Ireland’s producers to German ports or the European mainland,” he added - this could best be done by converting it into ammonia for transportation purposes.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times