Energy giant Equinor's decision to pull out of an offshore wind joint venture with ESB highlights the need for rapid offshore planning reform, industry figures warned on Thursday.
Norway's Equinor – formerly Statoil – is pulling out of a €2 billion wind energy project in Moneypoint, Co Clare that it and the ESB announced in April, blaming delays in the planning process.
The group confirmed its decision as the Government was preparing to relaunch its Climate Action Plan, which includes ambitious targets for renewable electricity and emissions cuts.
Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of industry group Wind Energy Ireland, said the move underlined what his organisation had been saying for some time.
“We are not reforming Ireland’s planning and regulatory framework quickly enough to develop the offshore wind we will need to meet the targets in the Climate Action Plan,” he said.
This was undermining confidence in the industry and among its suppliers, Mr Cunniffe added.
Dee Ryan, chief executive of Limerick Chamber, noted that Equinor had withdrawn because of the time it would take the Republic to put a workable offshore planning system in place.
“Its withdrawal also reflects a worrying message from the wider offshore renewable investment community that Ireland is not ready for business despite having this world-class opportunity,” she said.
The Oireachtas is due to begin debating the Maritime Area Planning Bill, meant to shake up the Republic's outdated offshore planning system and create a new regulator, shortly. However, it could take up to two years to establish the Marine Area Regulatory Authority, even if politicians pass the legislation on time.
Ms Ryan argued that this was far too long to wait. She pointed out that, in the interim, Government should allow energy developers to carry out surveys and site investigations needed to determine wind farm locations.
This would allow investors to “hit the ground running” once the new regulator and planning system are in place.
Last month Wind Energy Ireland warned that delays in the offshore planning and permitting system could prevent the Republic from meeting its 2030 renewable targets.