With offshore wind gathering pace in Ireland, we need to look beyond targets and deadlines to realise its full potential, says Eoin Cotter, Head of Business Development with multi-disciplinary marine survey specialists, Green Rebel.
As Ireland ramps up offshore wind development in a race to hit our 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation commitments, it is crucial we remember the opportunity here transcends meeting targets, hitting deadlines and avoiding penalties. An accident of geography means our small island nation has phenomenal offshore wind potential. If we get this right, we eliminate our reliance on fossil fuel imports (something recent events have thrown into stark relief), revolutionise Ireland’s energy economy, revitalise coastal communities, and provide a significant boost to national coffers.
Things are moving in the right direction, but Ireland still lags behind her neighbours in offshore wind. That is not necessarily all bad. It allows us to learn from what has worked in other jurisdictions, refine it, and apply it more effectively in an Irish context. Templates provided by trailblazers like Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWind programme offer Ireland a springboard to catapult us onto the global offshore wind stage. The opportunity is there, we just need the vision, courage and commitment, at all levels, to embrace it.
Where are we now?
We are making progress. The comparatively rapid passing of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) bill last year, and the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA), has injected sorely needed momentum, and gives cause for hope. However, it is vital the Government maintains and builds on that urgency through 2022 and beyond.
Significant hurdles still hamper the progression of offshore wind projects in Ireland. While following due process and observing statutory regulation are important, each stage takes far too long. For example, as a marine survey business, Green Rebel sees developers routinely wait 12-18 months for a straightforward foreshore licence before survey work can start. In the UK, they turn around equivalent licences in 12-18 weeks.
That level of regulatory stagnation frustrates developers and makes it unattractive for Irish investors and entrepreneurs to get involved in the indigenous offshore wind supply chain. If we are to reap the transformational rewards our offshore wind resource offers, that position needs to change, and change quickly.
Certainty: the vital ingredient
Lack of clarity in Ireland’s offshore wind sector is not just holding back progress, it is actively damaging it. We have already seen the departure of Equinor from the Irish market, for the time being at least. Driven by commercial imperatives, it is easy to understand why tier one developers might forsake Ireland in favour of jurisdictions with a more transparent regulatory landscape.
We need certainty to maximise our collective return, as a nation, from Irish offshore wind development. Certainty for developers: so they feel secure investing the sizeable sums of money required for these projects. Certainty for local businesses, investors and entrepreneurs: making it viable for them to develop an indigenous offshore wind supply chain, knowing work and revenue will follow. Certainty for local stakeholders and coastal communities: so they can start believing offshore wind will deliver the jobs, revenue and benefits promised.
The first step in creating that certainty is proper resourcing. Government departments, statutory and regulatory bodies need enough skilled people, with the right tools and processes in place, to fast-track offshore wind applications. That does not mean cutting corners or slackening regulatory rigour, it just means making sure foreshore licensing and Maritime Area Consent (MAC) applications are processed efficiently.
The Government also needs to address the shortfall in both coastal infrastructure to support offshore wind projects, and an indigenous Irish supply chain to service their needs, both during development and throughout their operational life. Investment in these crucial areas needs to happen now to maximise opportunity and avoid bottlenecks in the future.
Looking beyond the targets
Maintaining momentum, and taking action now to streamline Ireland’s offshore wind development, is paramount if we are to meet our decarbonisation targets. We are still playing catch up after years of slow progress, and cannot afford more delays. But it is also vital we do not hobble our ambition with arbitrary numbers. If the scope is there to push beyond the targets (and I believe it is), we should absolutely keep our foot to the floor and drive on.
Ireland has a priceless opportunity to become a global leader in offshore wind over the decades ahead. What do we need to do as an industry, and as a nation, to make that happen?
Everything we can.