The ESB is to announce on Friday that Moneypoint power station is to become a major base for renewable energy, in a plan that sees the building of a major offshore wind farm off the coast of Co Clare in partnership with Norwegian energy company Equinor.
It will also be the location for the ESB’s first move into green hydrogen production with a view to exporting the fuel from its deep sea berth at the facility in the Shannon estuary.
The announcement is a fillip for the midwest region as it ensures Moneypoint will be retained for decades to come, though it is due to cease coal burning by 2025.
Once the ESB’s flagship generating facility, it has been used less in recent years due to greater availability of wind energy, though it remains critical to the grid as a back-up to overcome intermittency of supply and to provide power at times of high demand – especially in winter.
The partnership with Equinor (formerly Statoil) will see the 1.4 gigawatt (GW) offshore wind farm use floating technology built in two phases at a cost of more than €2 billion, with the first due for completion by 2030. When completed, its output is expected to produce enough energy to power 1.5 million households. Electricity produced by the offshore facility will also be used to generate hydrogen.
It is understood the ESB and Equinor are pursuing the project under a public-private partnership. A foreshore licence application to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage was submitted recently, and preliminary work has already been undertaken in preparing the groundwork for a planning application.
Welcoming the development, Clare TD Michael McNamara said it could place Moneypoint at the centre of Government plans to develop offshore energy in Ireland, with wind energy off the Atlantic expected to be the main source of more than 30GW as the sector scales up over the next 20 years.
Mr McNamara added: “Moneypoint is situated on the coast; on the Shannon estuary. It has two large networks that leave it and cross the country in arcs, one going to the north of Dublin and the other to the south of Dublin. It is, essentially, irreplaceable in terms of the national network. It is perfectly placed for the development of an offshore wind energy project, and for helping Ireland fulfil its renewable energy commitments.”
Should the site be deemed suitable, "ESB and Equinor aim to seek planning permission under the terms of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill which is due to be enacted this year," Mr McNamara told the Clare Champion.
“As the project develops, it is hoped to be able to take advantage of the excellent wind conditions and excess energy generated to produce climate-neutral, hydrogen fuel which could eventually replace oil-based fuels in vehicles and transportation,” he said.
Last December, the ESB expressed its disappointment after the Moneypoint facility did not prequalify for the T-4 auction process overseen by Eirgrid for the period October 2024-September 2025. This means the Co Clare plant will have no capacity income, which is its primary source of income, from October 2024. The failure to be included had cast further uncertainty over the future of the facility.
A total of 100 workers lost their jobs as part of the most recent restructuring plan at the power plant, which currently employs 80 people. Because of high carbon emissions associated with its use of fossil fuels, there were fears locally that the plant might close. The job projections for the facility are likely to be considerably more in its new role, though scale-up will be over a number of years.