Marine planning Bill ‘welcome statement of intent’
Pinsent Masons lauds move as crucial first step ‘towards much needed reform’ of sector
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton, with other Ministers, arrive on a hybrid bus to announce details of the climate action plan at TU Dublin Grangegorman. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill
The Marine Planning and Development Bill is a welcome development in Ireland’s progress towards achieving the targets set out in the climate action plan, according to Pinsent Masons partner Garrett Monaghan. He sees it as a “welcome statement of intent and critical first step” towards much needed reform of the existing marine planning regime as it relates to the development of offshore renewable energy projects.
It is particularly important in the context of the National Development Plan. “After a prolonged absence, recent Irish government budgets and economic policy have prioritised an increased and sustained commitment to driving up the quality and scale of its infrastructure and wider capital asset base,” he says. “Ireland must plan and invest now to cater for the demands driven by the low-carbon transition, specific demographics, energy consumption and social infrastructure.”
The investment commitment is certainly there. “The National Development Plan (2018-2027) and the climate action plan (2019-2030), set out unprecedented levels (€150 billion–plus) of capital investment across the economy,” Monaghan notes. “Time will tell as to whether the Government funds this capital expenditure on a balance sheet basis or requires private debt and equity investment. The fact remains, however, that the capital requirement is so large and, unlike any other period in the history of the State, interest rates and borrowing costs have never been lower.”
Pinsent Mason expertise
Offshore wind will have to play a significant role in the achievement of Ireland’s renewable energy targets and Pinsent Masons has particular expertise in this area.
“We are an international law firm with dedicated energy and projects lawyers in Dublin and Belfast and our service offering in Ireland is enhanced by the skills and resources of over 1,500 lawyers operating across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region,” he says. “Our renewables and offshore wind experience spans the whole process of consenting, development, construction to transferring transmission assets. We have acted, and act, on some of the most significant projects throughout the development of onshore wind and solar power in Ireland and are at the forefront of offshore wind development in the UK and Europe.”
The forthcoming legislation is doubly welcome in the context of the changing economics of offshore wind power generation. “Delivering offshore wind at scale in Ireland has not progressed to date for several reasons, the primary one being cost competitiveness when compared to onshore wind,” Monaghan explains. “However, the huge technology-driven drop in the levelised cost of offshore energy in the past decade has now largely undermined the competitiveness argument.”
This makes the opportunity for Ireland all the greater. “Ireland’s marine territory is a vast and largely untapped resource,” he says. “Large offshore wind generation is now an integral component of the Irish Government’s energy policy with its twin objectives of meeting electricity demand and satisfying societal and EU pressure for that electricity to be green. Under the climate action plan, the Irish Government has sent an unequivocal message to the international energy community to the effect that it is in the market for in excess of 12 gigawatts (GW) of additional green power.”
An overhaul and update
This power will be required to meet the target of at least 70 per cent of the country’s electricity supply being generated from renewables by 2030. “When built, this new capacity will lead to a tripling of Ireland’s current generation base and offshore wind is earmarked for 25 per cent of that 12GW target.”
To enable the offshore sector to develop, and in parallel to other measures, the Government has published a proposed marine planning policy statement together with detailed draft legislation intended to overhaul and update the marine planning system.
“It is intended that the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will be introduced in the Dáil in Autumn 2019,” Monaghan adds. “In contrast to the existing dated and disjointed marine planning regime; the Bill seeks to codify matters and introduce a cohesive single marine consenting system. Specifically, it is an express recognition of the need to simplify the approval process for the development of capital projects in the 12-mile foreshore such as electricity and gas interconnectors, offshore wind projects and port development.”
Critically, the Bill is intended to eliminate unnecessary process duplication where developments are assessed under the foreshore and planning regimes. “The issuing of the draft legislation is a welcome statement of intent and critical first step,” Monaghan concludes. “Political and regulatory momentum transcends the wider health of the economy at any given time.”