IN 2004, IRELAND was an undisputed leader in offshore wind energy deployment. Working together turbine manufacturer GE Energy and renewable energy developer Airtricity co-developed a seven-turbine offshore wind farm off the coast of Co Wicklow in the Irish Sea.
When it was built, it was the largest offshore wind farm in the world, capable of generating over 25MW of green energy to power over 15,000 homes on the island.
Phase I of Arklow Bank was built without State support and was intentionally delivered as a demonstrator project that would, through its operation, prove the capability of offshore wind energy, not only in Irish waters but globally.
Fanfare and expectation
It was opened with much fanfare and expectation. At its official opening, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern lauded its development, and hinted that government funding may be forthcoming for proposed further phases at Arklow Bank or for other future projects.
He even went so far as to say that if renewable energy technologies are to prosper, continuing support in the form of a fixed price support mechanism will be required.
Today, the seven-turbine Arklow Bank wind farm remains the first and only operational offshore wind farm in Ireland, and the expectation of 2004 is in the dim and distant past. Arklow is, obviously, no longer the largest offshore wind farm in the world and is now, by comparison to wind farms operating in waters around neighbouring Britain, a mere minnow. So too is the status of our offshore wind energy industry.
Lack of clear policy
Recently I spoke at the annual Energy Ireland conference in Dublin where I warned that the continued lack of clear policy and regulatory signals in support of offshore wind energy risks sending a message to the industry that Ireland is not open for business to the sector.
Ireland has one of the strongest offshore wind resources in the world, yet is one of the only countries in Northern Europe not developing offshore wind capacity. This is due to the historic and continued lack of any standard support mechanism and grid access for offshore wind energy here.
Despite consulting last year on the design of a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) that will underpin how Ireland will meet its future low carbon energy goals, the Government has still to publish its final design of a price mechanism, including whether specific technologies such as offshore wind will be included in future competitive auctions.
Additionally, there is no existing grid connection policy in place that provides access to the market for offshore wind energy, and the recently published ECP-1 grid connection policy fails to deliver any certainty as to whether offshore wind will get access to the market through grid connections in this round, and no rules for future rounds have yet to be confirmed.
My comments last week coincided with the publication of the ‘2018 Off Target’ report from Europe’s largest NGO coalition working on climate and energy issues, Climate Action Network.
This report listed Ireland as the second-worst performing EU member state in tackling climate change, and said we will miss our 2020 climate and renewable energy targets. Looking beyond, it said Ireland is also off-course for its ‘unambitious’ 2030 emissions target.
That’s where offshore wind energy comes in. It is unquestionably the only renewable technology of genuine scale that can power the low-carbon revolution needed to bridge the gap towards meeting Ireland’s climate and energy targets. However, that revolution will not happen unless clear signals are given to investors and the industry supply chain that Ireland is ‘open-for-business’ for offshore wind.
Like other major developers, SSE is ready to invest billions of euro in large capital expenditure to develop Ireland’s offshore wind energy assets, including Arklow Bank Wind Park, to their full potential. Fully completed, Arklow Bank will be capable of generating around 1.75TWh of renewable electricity annually, enough green energy to power 420,000 homes and offset 640,000t/CO2 annually – and significantly bridging the gap to our 2020 energy and climate change targets.
SSE has publicly called on the Irish government and the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities to take the forward-looking steps necessary to support offshore wind energy, and to do so as quickly as possible. We have called for a technology-specific category for offshore wind in the government’s upcoming new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme, and for the regulator to provide certainty that grid access will be delivered to offshore wind projects.
A new RESS
Climate Action Minister Denis Naughten told the same conference that offshore wind energy offered huge opportunities for Ireland, especially in light of spatial restrictions associated with onshore energy developments. He also said that he will bring the design of a new RESS to assist Ireland in meeting its renewable energy contributions out to 2030 to Cabinet for approval in the coming weeks.
We’ll be keenly watching for this announcement in the hope that we will finally receive the signals needed so that Ireland’s long-awaited offshore wind energy revolution can finally begin.
Stephen Wheeler is Managing Director of SSE Ireland, the country’s largest renewable energy developer and generator.
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