The Government’s offshore energy plans will leave the Republic trailing the rest of Europe despite official ambitions to make the State a leading player in the industry, a leading specialist developer has warned.
Climate change plans call for the building of offshore wind farms capable of generating 5,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity by 2030 to help meet the Government’s target of producing 80 per cent of power consumed here from renewable sources. However, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is not allocating sea areas for any offshore development intended for beyond that deadline.
According to Kevin Lynch, chief executive and co-founder of Irish renewable energy developer Source Galileo, that approach has deterred investors and already cost up to 150 jobs in the industry.
Mr Lynch maintains that a department document – Accelerating Ireland’s Offshore Energy Programme – sets out plans for meeting 2030 targets, but effectively states that the Government will wait until after that deadline to begin planning for longer-term goals. He claims that when the Government published the report earlier this year it left multinational investors that are funding renewable electricity with the impression that “nothing is going to happen in Ireland”.
The department’s report states that Government intends to publish a policy for the post-2030 offshore development phase in the first quarter of 2024, along with an “enduring offshore policy”. It notes that there is a government-wide acceleration plan to deliver and sustain a long-term offshore energy programme of work.
Mr Lynch points out that backers need certainty on timing to allow them make investment decisions on big energy projects, so the report prompted many to pull back from the Republic. “150 people working in Irish offshore firms immediately lost their jobs when that was published,” he said.
One of Source Galileo’s backers is Ingka Investments, owner of the Ikea chain. That has a “five-year investment horizon”, according to Mr Lynch, so the State’s decision to stall its basic plans until after 2030 creates difficulties for the Swedish company.
Mr Lynch’s firm believes that the Republic is not moving fast enough even to meet its target of cutting 51 per cent of carbon emissions by 2030. This is legally binding, so taxpayers will foot the bill for any EU fines imposed if the State fails to meet them. At the same time the Government’s approach means that it will not be able to realise its ambition to develop an offshore energy industry that will export electricity to Europe.
“Ireland will be left behind whether it likes it or not,” said Mr Lynch.
At this point the UK, already a leader in offshore energy, aims to develop its waters to generate a further 50,000 MW or 50 gigawatts (GW) of electricity.
Norway is aiming for 30GW by 2030, with ambitions to export power, while Portugal recently announced plans for 10GW. “Ireland is doing just 5GW,” said Mr Lynch. To keep pace he says that the Republic needs to bring forward its 2040 target of 20GW of offshore electricity.
The businessman argues that it “would not take much” for the Government to begin allocating sea areas to developers and to get more projects into planning. He recommends that the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications hire five or six more staff with the right expertise.
Professionals with these skills already work for the industry here and for bodies such as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. “There’s a whole bunch of people working in the public service who want to get in the climate action area,” he said.
Mr Lynch is an experienced renewable energy executive. He co-founded and led Amarenco, developing solar projects in France, Ireland and Oman.
Source Galileo employs 30 people here. Its core investor’s ultimate backer is Australia Superannuation, the country’s state pension fund manager. The company is working on two floating wind farm projects in Norway, one with 500MW capacity and a 75MW plant that will power an offshore oil and gas rig. In the UK it is developing offshore wind farms with the capacity to generate between 4GW and 5GW of electricity.
To put that in perspective, Mr Lynch says that a wind farm with 1GW capacity generates 4 terawatt hours of electricity in the course of one year. The Republic uses 28 terawatt hours a year.
Source Galileo is bidding for some of the new capacity that the UK, Norway and Portugal are now offering, according to Mr Lynch.