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A view of the Moneypoint generating station outside Kilrush. Photograph by John Kelly.

Action urged to save offshore windfarm

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THE ESB and the government are being urged to seek another investment partner for the proposed €2 billion windfarm off the Clare coast following the “devastating” withdrawal of Norwegian firm Equinor.
Equinor has pulled out of the Irish market, having previously reached an agreement with the ESB to develop a major 1.4GW wind farm using floating technology off the West Clare coast.
Council chairman, Councillor PJ Ryan called on the government to introduce a streamlined simple planning process and remove any obstacles concerning connection to the national grid to get the vital project back on track.
Councillor Ryan said given the emphasis on tackling climate change the government should prioritise the necessary regulations to ensure this project was “shovel ready” to proceed.
Clare Dáil TDs Cathal Crowe and Violet-Anne Wynne have expressed different views on the impact of this setback for a major element of Moneypoint’s €5 billion Green Atlantic initiative.
Deputy Wynne believes the future of the offshore windfarm project is called into question.
“Are other foreign investment partners going to be similarly off put by Ireland’s excessive bureaucracy in terms of planning and regulation?” she asked.
While Deputy Crowe accepts it is very disappointing that Equinor have withdrawn from their partnership with the ESB to develop the offshore Green Atlantic windfarm, he thinks the project can still proceed.
While Deputy Joe Carey is concerned about Equinor’s withdrawal, he is confident the project will not be derailed.
“The ESB has unequivocally committed to ensuring that the Moneypoint offshore project will not be affected by this development. However, I will continue to keep this project to the forefront of government planning.”
Deputy Crowe is calling on the ESB and the government find a replacement partner.
“It has been widely reported in the media that the outdated planning and regulatory systems in Ireland pertaining to the development of offshore projects has been a major factor in Equinor’s withdrawal, but I don’t believe that’s the biggest reason.
“Much of what happens along Irish coastlines is dictated by the Foreshore Act of 1933. This legislation is totally outdated and unfit for purpose and served this country at a time when it still had steam-powered boats.
“For the last 18 months, a new piece of legislation to overhaul offshore projects Maritime Area Planning Bill has been working its way through the Houses of the Oireachtas and is now around six weeks away from being enacted.
“This legislation will supersede the 1933 Act and ensure Ireland has a planning and regulatory framework equal to, if not better, than most other EU states.
“Whilst we should all be very grateful to Equinor for progressing the Green Atlantic project to this stage, it must also be noted that they were happy to partner in this project at a time when a modern offshore planning regime was a mere pipeline dream.
“Now this legislation is only weeks away from being a reality.”
Deputy Crowe believes other companies will find this project to be very attractive and pledged to request the government and the ESB to immediately engage with some of these companies so that this project doesn’t encounter any delays.
“The withdrawal of Equinor certainly won’t bury this project but it’s imperative that every effort is now made to ensure that a new partner is found and the project proceeds as swiftly as possible.”
Deputy Wynne noted this offshore windfarm was a central component to the Government’s commitment to provide 5GW of wind energy by 2030. She believes it was ironic Equinor pulled out the same day that the Government announced their much-awaited Climate Action Plan.
“Which is more telling of the Government’s capacity to reach carbon neutrality; their ability to produce another lengthy document or their sustained engagement on crucial renewable projects such as this windfarm off Clare’s coast?
“It is a devastating blow for the community in West Clare. There have been very scant details about what the ‘Green Atlantic’ project is actually going to look like. The €2bn offshore windfarm in the pipeline, using floating technology seemed like positive movement in the right direction.”
While Deputy Wynne appreciates that the Maritime Area Planning Bill is going through the houses at the moment, she noted energy experts warn that the protracted nature of this process will have detrimental effects on how responsive we are to adapting to the challenges presented by Climate Change.
“Planning applications began for this project in 2019. Now in 2021 we learn Equinor has pulled out. That is two years wasted. The battle against Climate Change is a battle against time.”

by Dan Danaher

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