Developing wind energy onshore will be critical to meeting Ireland's climate targets, and result in an additional 4,000 megawatts of power while employing 7,000 people by 2030, according to a KPMG report.
Delivering the onshore wind energy target in the Government's climate action plan will almost double capacity from that source, generate €2.7 billion of investment over the next decade and could be worth €550 million annually to the economy at that point, the report for Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) concludes – it was released on Thursday at its annual annual conference.
It confirms 5,100 people are employed in the sector, which is concentrated in rural Ireland. The onshore sector will be essential to decarbonisation, it finds, as offshore wind begins scale up towards the end of the decade.
Wind farms pay more than €45 million in commercial rates to local authorities; a figure expected to double by 2030. In seven counties wind farms contribute more than 8 per cent of the entire commercial rates budget – this figure rises to 22 per cent in Leitrim and 15.5 per cent in Tipperary.
“Communities potentially stand to benefit from up to €25 million in annual community benefit payments as new wind farms are built,” it adds.
WEI acting chief executive Noel Cunniffe said the report "shows that if we deliver the target set out in the climate action plan it will mean more jobs, more investment and stronger communities across the country."
KPMG head of sustainable futures Russell Smyth said the findings underlined the crucial role onshore wind plays in the economy.
“As well as materially assisting Ireland meet its 2030 decarbonisation ambitions . . . the sector creates jobs in construction and in operations, contributes to local authorities and to the exchequer, and adds to Ireland’s overall economic output.”
Irish wind farms are reducing CO2 emissions by 4 million tonnes a year at present, Mr Cunniffe noted.
Ability to deliver, he said, was confirmed by audited figures from Eirgrid showing 43 per cent of electricity last year came from renewables – primarily wind.
There was, however, “a pipeline challenge” to deliver projects at scale and to ensure they are able to feed into the grid. Clarity was needed urgently on wind energy development guidelines, which must be science based, and a regional approach to planning was needed to overcome inconsistencies, rather than being based on individual county development plans.
From a standing start, he believed, offshore wind would have to play a part in delivering 2030 targets – 27 offshore projects are in development and set to deliver initially up to 5,000MW by 2030.
Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan told the conference "now is the time to go offshore at scale and at speed". The Maritime Area Planning Bill was a top priority for the Government, and had to be in place this year to ensure the first offshore auction could take place next year, he added.
He accepted the need to get planning right and to remove uncertainty over grid connection, so Ireland could tap into its competitive advantage offshore and risk was minimised for investors.
Mr Ryan also confirmed Ireland’s first five-year carbon budget was due to be set out by summer.