SSE to spend up to €6bn building offshore wind farms

London-listed utility plans to build wind farms off Louth, Wicklow and in Celtic Sea

SSE Renewables plans to spend up to €6 billion building offshore wind farms around the Irish coast, according to its chief executive, Alistair Phillips-Davies.

The London-listed utility, best known to Irish people through its Airtricity electricity and gas supply business, plans to build wind farms off Louth, Wicklow and in the Celtic Sea, with a potential capacity of 2,000 megawatts (MW).

“That would probably cost you about €5 billion to €6 billion, it depends on the water depth and how far offshore you are,” Mr Phillips-Davies said.

SSE Renewables, the group's green energy arm, plans to begin with a project on the Arklow Bank in the Irish Sea off Co Wicklow, where it could initially assemble enough turbines to produce about 520MW of electricity by 2025.

The company is about to seek planning permission for the project’s onshore elements. It says that key to it going ahead will be getting a connection to the national electricity grid and support from the State’s renewable-energy scheme.

Mr Phillips-Davies calculates that Arklow could cost €1 billion to €2 billion, boost the local economy by €800 million and create 80 full-time jobs in operations and maintenance when it is up and running.

Overall, SSE hopes to build the proposed 2,000MW in phases by 2030, its chief executive says.

Government aims to meet 70 per cent of the Republic’s electricity needs from renewable power.

Mr Phillips-Davies acknowledges that this target is ambitious, but said the Government needs to move forward with legislation that will speed up planning and licensing for offshore projects and with supports for renewable power.

He argues that renewable developers need a guaranteed price to underpin their projects, which allows them to raise cash needed to build them cheaply.

Irish businesses will hear from Mr Phillips-Davies on Thursday, when he addresses employers’ group Ibec’s leadership conference.

His company is sponsoring the UN climate-change conference, Cop26, which will run for 12 days in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Along with new wind farms, SSE is considering other projects for the Republic, including installing batteries at some facilities to store electricity generated from wind while demand is low, so it can be supplied to customers when they need it.

Hydrogen programme

The company may get involved in green hydrogen development here. It is working on a pilot programme in Britain where 150 to 200 homes will be supplied with the fuel through SSE’s gas network.

Green hydrogen is produced by “charging” water with electricity, splitting the hydrogen from the oxygen. Burning hydrogen turns it back into water so the fuel produces little greenhouse gas emissions.

Work on this technology is still in its early stages. It could potentially be used for heavy goods transport, heating and other areas, opening big growth opportunities, Mr Phillips-Davies observes.

“I don’t think anyone is going to make any money out of it by 2025, but it has a really interesting role to play in the longer term,” he says.

SSE employs about 1,000 people across Ireland, north and south. The company has 28 wind onshore farms that generate 720MW of electricity.

That includes the 169MW Galway Wind Park, the biggest such electricity plant in the country, which SSE built jointly with State forestry company Coillte.

It also owns a gas-fired generator at Great Island, Co Wexford, and several smaller "peaking" plants, used to back up renewable production.

Airtricity supplies 700,000 homes and businesses here with electricity and natural gas. “I would love to have some more customers in Ireland if I can get them,” Mr Phillips-Davies says, adding that competition here is tough.