Spending of up to €100 million is needed on at least one port on the Irish coast to support the development of an offshore electricity industry that could create more than 3,000 jobs, a new report claims.
Energy players such as Norway's Statkraft and Germany's Innogy plan to spend €6 billion building wind farms in the Irish Sea to generate "green" electricity and boost the Republic's efforts to meet climate change targets.
Lobby group the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) says in a report published on Friday that the industry could create 2,500 new construction jobs and 700 permanent posts over the next 10 years.
However, the organisation argues that at least one port will need to invest between €50 million and €100 million to allow the country to fully cash in on the benefits that the offshore electricity industry could bring.
Turbines used to generate electricity are partially assembled onshore, while wind farm owners will need a base to manage ongoing operations and maintenance once the plants are built.
Failure to develop a port here could lead to the work being lost to British harbours such as Mostyn in Wales, or Barrow, which is close to Liverpool, which already service wind farms in the eastern Irish Sea.
Launching the Harnessing our Potential report, Dr David Connolly, IWEA chief executive, explained the most likely candidate would be on the east coast, because the largest offshore wind farms are planned for the Irish Sea.
He and Liam Leahy, of the Carbon Trust, which produced the report, indicated that Rosslare, Co Wexford, could be a leading contender, as servicing wind farms could disrupt existing operations at Dublin, the Republic's busiest port.
They also explained that Rosslare would give easy access to the southeast coast, which is a likely location for future wind farms.
Dr Connolly agreed that Belfast, where the old Harland & Wolff docks have been used to service offshore wind farms, could qualify. He pointed out the port was also hoping to benefit from plans to build further large wind farms in UK waters.
The report also calls on schools, universities and training bodies to provide workers with the skills needed for the jobs that the wind energy industry could potentially create.
Existing projects proposed for the Irish Sea will need at least €6 billion in investment. However, building enough offshore power to help meet renewable electricity targets could push that figure up to €8 billion, according to some estimates.
Government policy aims to meet 70 per cent of the Republic’s demand for electricity from renewable generators, including wind and solar power, by 2030. Last year, onshore wind and hydroelectric power provided about one third of the electricity used in the State, while natural gas accounted for more than 60 per cent.
Along with Statkraft and Innogy, State-owned ESB and its partner, Belgian operator, Parkwind, SSE Airtricity and Fred Olsen Renewables, are also lining up plans for offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea.
The industry warns that new marine planning laws, due to be passed by the Oireachtas this year, are urgently needed for these developments. Foreshore licensing currently governs developments around the Republic's coast, but investors say that the system, which has not changed since the 1930s, is out of date.
Dr Connolly pointed out that new wind farms likely to produce “enormous” amounts of energy would connect to the electricity grid over the next 10 years.
"This is the time for Ireland to seize the opportunity, to bring together industry, policymakers and coastal communities to identify a suitable port on Ireland's east coast and to make it a base for Ireland's newest industry."