Belfast Harbour is the only one out of 13 major ports on the island of Ireland that is ready to be used for constructing offshore wind farms, according to a report published by Wind Energy Ireland (WEI).
The report produced by Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions is the most detailed analysis ever carried out of port readiness for scaled up development of offshore renewable energy.
The Government recently increased it offshore wind target to 7 gigawatts by 2030. Enhanced ports and harbours are needed for large-scale offshore installations by supporting construction, operation and maintenance activities.
Deep sea berths and extensive quaysides with capacity to cater for large turbine components are required. Ports serve as a link between marine and landside activities and often become a hub for supply chain activity.
The report published on opening day of WEI’s annual offshore conference analyses existing infrastructure available at the ports and harbours as well as their plans for expansion to cater to offshore wind.
The ports and harbours examined were: Belfast D1; Belfast Harland & Wolff, Bremore in north Dublin, Cork Dockyard, Foynes Island, Galway, Killybegs in Co Donegal, Larne in Co Antrim, Moneypoint in Co Clare, Port of Cork (Ringaskiddy), Ros an Mhíl in Co Galway, Rosslare Europort and Shannon-Foynes.
A total of 11 others including Dublin Port, Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the Port of Waterford were “screened out” because of failure to meet required criteria.
“We want to build Irish offshore wind farms in Irish ports,” WEI chief executive Noel Cunniffe said. “Our members — both ports and developers — are absolutely united on this. That is the best way to create jobs at home and to deliver offshore wind energy at the lowest possible price.”
“But we cannot build 7GW of offshore wind energy by the end of 2030 if we only have a single port on the island suitable for building offshore wind farms,” he added. “We need to be able to build more than one offshore wind project at the same time if we are to have any chance to deliver the carbon emissions cuts that the Government wants and that climate action requires.”
Mr Cunniffe acknowledged Government policy statements on offshore wind and commercial ports, combined with the new Offshore Wind Delivery Task Force, show an increased focus on delivery, backed by the Department of Transport, the Irish Marine Delivery Office and other State agencies.
“But with only eight years to deliver 7GW of offshore wind energy there is growing concern throughout industry that projects may have to be built from outside of Ireland or will need to wait for availability in Belfast,” he warned.
Support from the Government would help de-risk the level of upfront investment and plug any funding gaps, the report suggests. This 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 and European Investment Bank.
Huge uncertainty remains about when offshore wind farm construction will start as developers seek clarity on the emerging offshore planning system and next year’s offshore renewable auction, it notes. “Clarity on timescales would help developers and give confidence to investors looking at the detailed infrastructure plans brought forward by ports.”
On planning, the report highlights a risk ports will struggle to get a foreshore survey licence on time or may spend years in the planning system.
Principal engineer with Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions Sarah Gibson said: “Our ports have the ambition, the determination and the imagination to provide first-class infrastructure for the construction of offshore renewable energy projects. Ports like Rosslare, Cork Dockyard and Shannon-Foynes have already put in substantial work getting ready for offshore wind.”
Ireland could be a base from which to build a generation of fixed-bottom and floating wind energy projects, creating thousands of jobs and ensuring that investment stays in the country, she added.
“But it won’t just happen by itself. It will need Government, ports and renewable energy developers working together to make this ambition a reality,” she added.
The report was co-funded by Belfast Harbour; DP Energy, ESB, Inis Offshore Wind, Ocean Winds, Ørsted, Source Energie and RWE.