With the ESB announcing a €5 billion investment programme tied into a new renewable energy hub at Moneypoint in Co Clare, the Government must fast-track a Shannon estuary task force to fully realise opportunities from offshore wind off the west coast, according to Limerick Chamber of Commerce.
The ESB announcement made on Friday includes development of a floating off-shore wind farm generating 1.4 gigawatts (GW) of electricity – enough to power 1.6 million homes – off the coast of Clare and Kerry with its partner Equinor.
It is to also build a €50-million synchronous compensator beside the existing Moneypoint power station to increase renewable energy on the power grid, and to embark on a green hydrogen generation and storage venture at the site.
Chamber chief executive Dee Ryan said the move underlined the unprecedented opportunity that exists for the region including the potential for substantial job creation, while helping to decarbonise Ireland but the Government must move quickly on the promised task force.
She added: "The announcement is a brilliant start and sees Ireland taking a further step towards unlocking this transformative unrivalled green energy asset on the west coast. But we must move fast through coordinated strategy development; policy and legislative change, skills development and investment in facilities, not least at Foynes Port, to ensure we seize the opportunity to become a major global player in renewable energy."
Ms Ryan predicted the ESB-Equinor joint venture would trigger further private investment in the region over coming decades. "The involvement of Equinor in this project, who are a global leader in floating offshore wind, illustrates just how exciting the opportunity is on the estuary and off the Irish west coast."
“We have the expertise in the region, the natural assets and now the technology. We need Government to put the framework in place to attract more investment. If it does, it will transform our economy and, in keeping with the goals of Project Ireland 2040, rebalance economic opportunities on this side of the island,” she said.
Stop Climate Chaos policy coordinator Sadhbh O’Neill said: “This is a hugely significant announcement, one that finally harnesses Ireland’s world-renowned renewable energy resource. It will put Ireland on a firm pathway to net -zero emissions and it should signal an end well before 2050 to the reliance on fossil fuels in our energy system.”
This single announcement was more significant in decarbonisation terms than most of the actions in the 2019 Climate Action Plan added up together, she believed.
“We want to see the ESB commit to phasing out all fossil power generation (gas) and a solid commitment to ongoing public engagement and public participation as it embarks on this project over the coming months,” Ms O’Neill added.
Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan welcomed the announcement, which he said would exploit renewable energy arising in "the windiest part of the planet".
The ESB transformation of the Moneypoint site was an indication of the opportunities from decarbonising the economy, he added, while offshore wind energy was particularly suited to Ireland given its sea area was 10 times larger than its land mass.
Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC) chief executive Pat Keating said the ESB move underlined the enormous potential of the Shannon Estuary and west coast as a global renewable energy hub.
“We have one of the world’s great energy renewable resources, with the Atlantic wind resource considered amongst the best in the world. But we now finally have the wherewithal to use it because of the advancement of floating offshore wind technology and hydrogen generation. Put these elements together and we have the resource, the technology and base to transform Ireland into one of the world’s leading renewable energy locations,” he added.
Last year SFPC published a report estimating available wind resource off the west coast could generate up to 70GW of floating offshore wind energy, “which is multiples of what we require as a nation, and it also identified potential for large scale hydrogen generation. So today is a brilliant beginning in realising that potential”, he underlined.
Mr Keating said it would also help achieve national targets for balanced economic development. “The opportunity from floating offshore renewable energy installations here on the west coast, and the huge supply-chain potential that will come with it, will deliver the type of balanced economic growth that Project Ireland 2040 rightly aspires to. For example, our report launched last December conservatively estimated that up to €12 billion in associated supply chain investment could be located on the Shannon Estuary by 2050.”
Director general of Engineers Ireland (EI) Caroline Spillane said "the project's ambition will help Ireland reach its goal of net-zero carbon by 2050 and also to become a net exporter of green energy".
EI president Maurice Buckley said production of green hydrogen from offshore wind through ESB's ambitious plans would "unlock a massive clean power generation resource, creating a clean fuel for Irish industry and households and a highly valuable commodity".