Government licensing delays threaten the State’s ability to hit renewable energy targets, offshore wind farm developers warn.
Multinationals and Irish businesses planning to invest billions of euro in building wind farms off the coast must get foreshore licences from the Department of Housing and Local Government to carry out needed seabed surveys.
Industry group Wind Energy Ireland and companies warn that licence waiting times of up to two years will prevent the State from fulfilling a pledge to have enough offshore wind to generate 5,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity by the end of the decade.
Peter Baillie, managing director of Energia Renewables, which recently got a foreshore licence, calculated that the waiting time could leave the Republic trailing its 2030 target by 2,000 to 3,000MW.
He argued that in order to get 5,000MW of offshore wind operating by 2030 the Government needs to grant foreshore licences to projects totalling 10,000MW within the next six months, as some developments will not get through planning. “They have only 3.9 gigawatts [3,900MW] now,” he said.
Wind Energy Ireland agreed that if a project did not have a foreshore licence by the end the first quarter of next year, it would be “extremely unlikely” to be ready to generate electricity by 2030.
“We have had Irish projects wait more than two years to get their licence processed and 18 months is not at all uncommon,” the organisation said.
Noel Cunniffe, Wind Energy Ireland's chief executive, warned: "We are not on track to hit our 2030 target of 5,000MW of offshore wind".
The Oireachtas is due to begin debating the Maritime Area Planning Bill, meant to modernise the nearly 90-year-old offshore licensing regime, during this Dáil term.
Among other things, that will create the new Marine Area Regulatory Authority, which will be responsible for granting licences and offshore planning. However, that will take up to a year after the legislation is enacted, and possibly a further six months before it can process licence applications.
Current measures allow some developments, classed as "relevant projects" to get fast-track maritime area consents from the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan.
Wind Energy Ireland and the industry want the Bill amended to allow more developers to benefit from this.
The Department of Housing and Local Government pointed out that it had put extra resources into processing maritime applications, allowing it to process those it had efficiently.
“However, the foreshore consenting process and the demands of the related and constantly evolving planning and environmental case law remain complex,” the department said.
Its statement pointed out that staff were already preparing the groundwork for the new Marine Area Regulatory Authority to ensure that it could be established as soon as possible, if the Oireachtas passes the new legislation.