The first mega wind farm off the west coast of Ireland has been provisionally approved by the State as part of a strategy to power six million homes with renewable energy by 2030.
EirGrid yesterday announced the four major projects which were successful in its first offshore wind auction. They have a combined capacity of three gigawatts (GW), enough to power some 2.4 million homes. The projects have won provisional approval, with a final decision to be made later in the summer.
The four offshore wind farms, all using fixed turbines, would be the largest renewable energy projects undertaken in Ireland to date. Three are located in the sandbanks of the Irish Sea. The fourth would be located at Carraig na Sceirde (Sceirde Rocks), about 5km from the shore of Mweenish, one of the most picturesque areas in southwest Connemara.
The €2 billion Sceirde project would comprise an estimated 30 turbines spread across a wide area of the bay. The blades of each would reach 300m, equivalent to the height of the Eiffel Tower. In all, it would have a generation capacity of some 450MW.
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Multiple objections were submitted to the foreshore licence application for the wind farm on grounds of its significant visual impact on the landscape and seascape of south Connemara, as well as potential disturbance to marine life and an impact on fishing communities.
The three farms in the Irish Sea given provisional approval are: Kish Bank, some 11km off the coast of Dublin (500MW); the Dublin Array, 10km from the coast between Dublin and Wicklow (824MW); and Codling Banks, some 13km off the Co Wicklow coast. Codling would be the largest wind project undertaken in the State to date, if given final approval. It would have an estimated 100 turbines and generate 1.3GW of energy, enough to power a million homes.
Unusually, the auctions have been held before any of the projects have received planning permission. While preliminary discussions have occurred, planning applications are expected to be lodged late this year.
The main uncertainty over the delivery of the projects revolves around the planning process. Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of industry umbrella group Wind Energy Ireland, said there was a need for sufficient qualified staff to be appointed in An Bord Pleanála to robustly assess the applications. He said the decisions should come next year.
“Ultimately the offshore wind energy that has been contracted [at auction] should be on the grid by 2028 or 2029,” he said.
The Government has set itself a target of delivering 5GW of offshore wind by 2030, all of it coming from fixed-bottom turbines located off the coast. It has also committed to having an additional 2GW of power from floating wind turbines in development by 2030.
These four projects combined would generate 3GW if they all proceed. The remaining 2GW needed to reach the target is to be the subject of a phase-two auction, the process for which is expected to start later this year.
The price secured at auction was €86.05 per MW hour. Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said this was one of the “lowest prices paid by an emerging offshore wind market in the world”. He said that the average wholesale electricity price in Ireland over the past 12 months was €200 per MW hour.
However, Sinn Féin spokesman on environment Darren O’Rourke said the price was €20 above the European average of €65 per MW hour. He said the price reflected curtailment on the grid, high connection costs and potential delays in planning. A spokeswoman for Mr Ryan disagreed, saying Mr O’Rourke was not comparing “like for like”.
Under the community benefit fund provisions of the process, the successful projects are required to make payments to local marine and coastal communities hosting offshore renewable energy projects. The Department of the Environment said those communities would benefit from more than €24 million a year for up to 20 years after a project to produce renewable energy had begun.