The ESB and Belgian offshore wind developer Parkwind have reached an agreement "to kick-start the offshore wind-generation industry in the Republic" by developing two large offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea.
The Irish utility has acquired up to 35 per cent in the Oriel project, a wind farm to be located 22km off the coast of Dundalk with a capacity of up to 330 megawatts (MW) using 55 large turbines. It is planned to begin commercial operations in the early 2020s, subject to appropriate government and regulatory supports for development of offshore wind.
The only operational offshore wind farm in Ireland is the partially-built Arklow Bank off Co Wicklow.
While the price paid by the ESB was not confirmed, the overall cost of the Oriel scheme is thought to be €700 million, according to industry sources.
Once operational it will generate enough capacity to cover the energy needs of 280,000 households, equivalent to most of the population in Louth and Meath. It will contribute to the reduction of Ireland's carbon emissions by 600,000 tonnes per annum.
Parkwind, a leading European offshore wind company, will continue to head the project from its new Dublin offices in collaboration with ESB.
The ESB holds a foreshore licence to commence site investigations. Parkwind, meanwhile, will also acquire up to 35 per cent of the nearby Clogherhead project, which is intended to be developed with the ESB under a separate planning application.
Minister for Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton, who met with senior ESB and Parkwind representatives on Tuesday, said the announcement was a significant development for Ireland's offshore wind industry.
“This project has the potential to deliver sustainable, clean offshore wind energy... I am determined to make Ireland a leader in climate action. Renewable energy is critical to this ambition.”
With a sea area almost 10 times the size of its landmass, Ireland has very significant offshore wind capacity, “and this partnership is a testament to our potential in this area”, Mr Bruton said.
Parkwind’s co-chief executive François Van Leeuw said it was continuously looking for strategic partnerships.
“This partnership is driven by the strategy of the company, which is based on a long-term vision whereby we not only develop but also operate our projects [in the longer term]. A strong local partner such as ESB is the right match to further execute this strategy.”
Under the ESB’s Brighter Future Strategy it was “completely transforming the way we generate electricity, replacing high-carbon generation with low-carbon and renewable alternatives”, said its chief executive Pat O’Doherty.
“Today’s announcement represents a significant investment by ESB in offshore wind, which we anticipate will account for the bulk of Ireland’s future zero carbon electricity.”
He said ESB’s collaboration with Parkwind underscored its commitment “to further involvement in the development and construction of offshore wind farms in both Ireland and the UK”.
New planning rules for offshore wind farms are envisaged under the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill, but offshore developers have repeatedly criticised delays in passing the legislation.
ESB’s head of renewables David McNamara said the legislation would be a good thing as it would “consolidate a lot in one place”, but they would work with whatever regulatory regime was in place.
Mr Van Leeuw underlined the need to get clarity and transparency in whatever Irish auction system was put in place for offshore wind.