Marine planning must be strategic and not just developer led

In Blog, Business & Jobs, Energy, Environment, Families, Health, Infrastructure, Jobs by Denis Naughten

There are two things we have in abundance in Ireland, one is grass and the other is our ocean.

Ireland has a sea area of 900,000 square kilometres, 10 times as big as our island, so as a country we are far more blue than green. As a result, we have some of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world.

It is estimated that we have somewhere between 50-70GW of clean renewable electricity off our coast which is not only enough to meet our long-term energy needs, but we can also produce enough electricity to supply France and Austria as well.

If we are to achieve our renewable electricity target of 70% by 2030 it’s estimated we will need about 5GW of offshore wind by that date – the same amount of electricity the country used each day during the month of August.

While this is a challenge, at present there is about 3.9GW across 6 projects which are ready to go into the planning system, but we must wait for those applications to be submitted.

To address this, the Dáil will take a major step forward in the forthcoming session in providing a structured framework for the sustainable development of our offshore renewable energy resources (wind, wave and tidal) as it considers the Maritime Area Planning Bill.

Because of the failure to progress this vital legislation over the last decade, as Minister for Energy in 2018 I secured Cabinet approval for the prioritisation of this cross-departmental legislation, that was driven by the Department of An Taoiseach, to ensure we could tap into this huge economic and environmentally sustainable resource off our coast.

This new law, which was published earlier this month and runs to 245 pages, will put in place a comprehensive and coherent planning system for our entire Maritime area for the first time since the foundation of the State.

While it has taken a century to get this far neither our climate nor our economy can be allowed to stagnate or deteriorate while we consider how we will develop this resource.

Ireland requires a radical overhaul of its industrial development policy if it is to achieve its climate goals and fully grasp the economic opportunity off our coast.

And this cannot be done on a piecemeal or haphazard basis.

We already read of plans being advanced to build a major €2bn port on a 1,000 acre site at Bremore, on the Dublin-Meath border, in order to exploit the potential that offshore wind turbines have to offer.

There is no doubt that there is huge potential for such a port but is it located in the right place considering there is likely to be only one such large port on the island of Ireland and the vast majority of off-shore wind farms are to be constructed off the west and south west coasts?

Offshore Renewable Development Authority

Rather than this being developer driven, I believe we need to establish a statutory Offshore Renewable Development Authority that can drive a fully coordinated national action plan whose responsibility would range from research and development through to supply chain development and commercial deployment, with a clear focus on:

  • the sustainable development of Ireland’s abundant offshore renewable energy resources
  • the need to increase indigenous production of renewable electricity
  • reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions
  • improving the security of our energy supply
  • creating jobs in the green economy

These are all goals as set out in our Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) which was updated in 2019 after the initial plan in 2014. Little happened over the term of the last plan because there are so many different departments and agencies involved and as a result we as a country only move at the pace of the slowest cog, which inevitably is the one which has the least to gain.

Is it any wonder it has taken us 100 years to get to this point?

We have to ask ourselves: will we lead from the front, create an “IDA of our seas” and become a major global clean energy exporter like the Arab States did with oil?

Or do we wait for a “mainstream moment”? A situation where private developers decide how Ireland exploits its renewable resources and who that energy is supplied to, just like the Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power plan to erect 1,000 wind turbines across the midland a decade ago to supply electricity to the UK.

We all hear the call for leadership when it comes to climate change and to deliver upon this it will require significant leadership from the Government.

I believe this is the type of leadership that is now needed to enact this new law but also, more importantly, to ensure that we have the structures in place to benefit the Irish people in the long term.