May 11, 2021

More public engagement required in offshore wind resources in Ireland

Environmental groups are warning that the rise of offshore wind resources in Ireland could be hindered by the lack of public engagement. Director of Friends of the Earth Oisin Coghlan recently stated that the energy transition and rollout of large-scale offshore wind in Ireland must be regarded as a shared societal project, rather than as a predominantly developer-focused project.


In a discussion regarding the support and development of offshore wind, the director of Friends of the Earth highlighted that the lack of public engagement, including public participation and ownership could result in building infrastructure being more difficult for the State and developers.


Coghlan referred to the useful lessons learnt from onshore wind development and the debated Corrib gas project in a recent webinar focusing on harnessing Ireland’s and the EU’s offshore energy. Coghlan highlighted that there has been a rise of opposition, with people claiming there have been projects without consent and a general feeling of being powerless. In the case of offshore wind development, there is a consensus that more democracy, planning and shared ownership is needed. Further effort is needed to ensure the industry doesn’t become an area that lacks public support and engagement. Findings suggest that there are growing public concerns regarding the huge power demands of data centres and what benefits there are to wider society.


Eamon Ryan, the minister for the Environment and Climate explains that the rapid development of offshore wind will face possible opposition, particularly on the eastern coast due to large turbines being so visible on the horizon. Ryan highlights that the public need to be involved and completely aware of the visual impacts and at the same time, aware of the benefits in terms of renewable energy and how offshore wind will support Ireland in meeting its climate targets.


Ryan refers to how offshore wind development at scale has created opportunities to generate up to seven times more than existing electricity generation in Ireland. Reports suggest around 5GW was planned for by 2030, with 30GW being developed over the following decades as additional floating turbines are installed in deeper seas.


Technological advancements and reductions in costs mean these targets could be easily met, and possibly reach quicker in support of further climate action. The vital driving force would be the impending Maritime Area Planning Bill, which would include all offshore planning projects, including fisheries, creating marine protected areas and aquaculture. Ryan emphasises that it is critical we solid environmental planning is the priority with everything we do. As turbines increased in size, they have become more noticeable, but now fewer are required. Ryan believes with further progression and implementing the right approach, offshore wind could have little impact on seabirds and marine habitats.


Eddie O’Connor of Mainstream Renewable Power stated that in the short term Ireland was expected to get ‘free power’ from the Irish Sea and in the long term would utilise its competitive edge from offshore wind by supplying Europe with green energy. Order for this to be effective requires implementing the right consent and licensing system and backing it up with an adequate grid network. The problems concerning grid congestion in Dublin represent one area that could hinder green development and the wider green agenda in Ireland. O’Connor explained that it’s difficult to commit to a 100% green transport system until a high-density, the accessible charging system is available and the grid question is solved.


In broader terms, there is a need for acceptance that the energy transition in Ireland will require infrastructure changes. For example, cables would have to be buried or existing overhead lines replaced with bigger conductors to enable greater power transmission.


Ireland is at risk of not reaching its targets for offshore wind installations unless there is further coordination and ambition from all government departments. In Ireland, there needs to be a collaborative approach to protect habitats and fishing grounds, as well as meet offshore wind targets for renewable energy produced at sea.


Peter Le Froy of RWE Renewables explains that Ireland is still a relatively small player in the offshore industry and could potentially fall further behind if it did not respond and take action.