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An offshore wind farm off the coast of The Netherlands. Alamy Stock Photo
wind energy ireland

Govt must invest in ports in order to build offshore wind energy projects, report finds

Belfast is currently the only port on the island of Ireland that is capable of constructing offshore wind farms.

THE GOVERNMENT MUST invest in port infrastructure in order to make them capable of developing offshore wind farms, a new report has found.

The report, produced for Wind Energy Ireland by Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions, states that failing to do so could risk wind farms being built elsewhere and missing out on an “incredible economic opportunity”.

It states that such State investment is “common and widespread” in Europe.

“It is recognised that ports are critical infrastructure with high societal value. Where projects exhibit a funding gap, provision of grant funding is essential to ensuring viability.”

The report states that the failure by Government to act means that offshore wind projects, due to compete in an auction next month, still have no idea which Irish ports – if any – will be available to construct the wind farms.

“This uncertainty will push up prices so Irish electricity consumers could be paying more for their power for decades to come because of the lack of ports.”

Paul Doherty, Executive director of Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions, said support from the Government “would de-risk upfront investment and could plug any funding gaps”.

“This support could be in the form of direct funding from the exchequer, a low-interest loan scheme or access to funding vehicles such as the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) and the European Investment Bank,” he said.

“In the case studies we identify in the report it is clear there is no State Aid issue here. The Irish Government can choose to do this or it can choose not to.”

The report examines how port infrastructure for offshore wind energy was funded both within and outside the EU, and highlights the important role of State support in giving confidence to investors.

Last year’s National Ports Study showed that Belfast is the only port on the island of Ireland that is currently fully equipped to serve as a construction base for offshore wind farms.

“We do not have a single port in the Irish Republic capable of being used to build an offshore wind farm and while Belfast Harbour is an outstanding facility, we cannot simultaneously build all of the offshore wind farms that we need from a single location,” Noel Cunniffe, Wind Energy Ireland CEO Noel Cunniffe said.

The report states that Rosslare, Cork Dockyard and Shannon-Foynes are planning to expand their port infrastructure in order to build offshore wind farms, but that these improvements require significant amounts of investment.

“While the ports can, and will, raise much of this themselves support from the State is crucial to de-risking initial investment.”

Cunniffe warned that without investment, Ireland will miss its target of having 70% of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030, see wind farms developed outside of Ireland and lose out on jobs. 

“Instead of growing jobs in Wexford, Cork and Limerick, our wind farms will be creating employment in Great Britain and France,” he said.

Offshore wind developments can seek funding through the EU’s Connecting Europe Fund (CEF), which the report states has been the focus of Government policy to date.

However, it states that this funding it “not a silver bullet” and that there are several limitations in “relying solely on the CEF to solve the funding issue”.

It also points out that all Irish applications for port infrastructure under the CEF last year were unsuccessful and, even if current applications succeed, there are limitations to relying on the fund.

The report recommends bringing ports, the offshore renewable energy industry and State agencies together as part of the Offshore Wind Delivery Task-force to identify solutions, including the possibility of designing an Irish Strategic Port Investment Model.

It also recommends updating the National Ports Policy to enable the State to invest in port infrastructure, and for Government to work with industry and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to support infrastructure development.

“No one is looking for a blank cheque from Government, but whether it is through the Strategic Investment Fund, EU funding or from the State, the reality is that financial support is necessary to give confidence to private investors that Ireland is serious about developing the infrastructure we need to build offshore wind energy,” Cunniffee said.

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