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.
Clare Dáil Deputies 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While Deputy Crowe accepts it is very disappointing that Equinor have withdrawn from their partnership with the ESB to develop the offshore Green Atlantic windfarm, he thinks the project can still very much proceed.
Deputy Crowe is calling on the ESB and the government to immediately put their heads together and find a replacement partner.
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.
“It has been widely reported in the media today that the outdated planning and regulatory systems in Ireland pertaining to the development of offshore projects has been a major factor in Equinor’s withdrawal, but I don’t necessarily believe that this is the biggest reason.
“Currently, 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“This legislation is totally outdated and unfit for purpose and served this country at a time when it still had steam powered boats.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 fully enacted.
“This piece of legislation will supersede the 1933 Act and ensure that 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.
“From a Clare point of view, the project and Moneypoint breathed new hope into West Clare that was hugely concerned about the future of the Moneypoint Power Station.
“With coal burning operations being wound down, all hopes now rest on the transition to wind energy offshore.
“Beyond generating electricity from offshore wind turbines, Moneypoint will also be a centre of excellence for developing new wind turbine technologies which will be used not only in the locality but also nationally and globally.
“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.
This is part of a greater promise to generate 80% of Ireland’s energy needs through renewable sources by 20230.
She believes it was ironic that 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 come to learn that Equinor has pulled out. That is two years wasted. The battle against Climate Change is a battle against time
“It would have provided 1.4GW of the overall national total of 5GW making it one of the main wind energy infrastructures in the country. The youth in the area are crying out for jobs and this project would have provided opportunities for a very disenfranchised youth.
“The extremely protracted nature of planning and regulation processes in this country will have to change is we stand any chance at dramatically and rapidly changing our energy infrastructure in line with COP26 and other carbon reduction commitments.”
In a statement issued to the Clare Champion, the ESB stated it remains fully committed to developing and delivering a major portfolio of offshore wind projects in Irish waters following the decision by Equinor not to continue with offshore wind development in Ireland at this time.
ESB signed a cooperation agreement with Equinor, a leading developer of fixed and floating offshore wind, in 2019. Since then, both companies have worked closely together to identify and develop a portfolio of offshore projects around the east, south and west coasts of Ireland.
Significant preparation work, including foreshore licence applications, has been completed and ESB believes that these projects will make an important contribution to the Programme for Government’s target of 5GW of offshore wind by 2030.
Following a review by Equinor of its strategy to develop profitable growth in renewables, they decided to stop their early phase offshore wind activities in Ireland. Equinor has conveyed that they were very impressed with ESB’s professionalism and capability and that they wish ESB every success as they continue to develop a portfolio of offshore wind projects in Irish waters.
While ESB is disappointed with the decision by Equinor to withdraw from Irish offshore wind development, this in no way diminishes the ambition of ESB to deliver an offshore wind portfolio of scale in our home market.
The ESB team is making strong progress on the development work associated with an exciting multi-GW portfolio of projects. The first of these projects, Oriel Wind Farm in partnership with Parkwind, will enter into the first offshore wind renewable auction in 2022.
“We are confident that ESB will have a significant role to play in the delivery of new offshore wind in Ireland, both fixed and floating, to 2030 and beyond,” the statement concluded.