Guest Blog: Recent Developments in Irish Offshore Wind
Continuing the ElectroRoute series of Guest Blogs, we are delighted to present an analysis of recent Offshore Renewable Energy developments in Ireland by Kristen Read of A&L Goodbody.
Since our last update in 2020, there has been huge change – and even some history made – in the Irish offshore wind sector, with momentum only continuing to build. This updated insight provides an overview of recent developments.
Passage of the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021
The Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 (the MAP Act) was signed into law on 23 December 2021. It provides new consenting processes for foreshore licences, foreshore leases and, importantly, planning permissions for various marine projects including offshore renewable energy infrastructure. It also creates a new regulatory authority and a regime for designating marine protected areas. In particular, this ambitious legislation provides a “fit for purpose” mechanism for the consenting of offshore renewable energy projects in a way that complies with European environmental assessment obligations, facilitates Aarhus Convention-compliant public participation, and gives Ireland a realistic chance of delivering new renewable energy sources allowing it to meet its 2030 climate change targets. Some of the key changes are highlighted below:-
The Maritime Area Regulatory Authority
The MAP Act establishes the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA). MARA will have the power to grant Maritime Area Consents (MACs), discussed below and will take over responsibility from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage for the issuing of licences to conduct surveys in the marine environment (currently termed foreshore licences in Ireland). It will also have various enforcement functions. The MARA is currently set to be established on 17 July 2023. This will be a key step in the transition to the new maritime consenting regime and will be a key enabler in delivering Ireland’s ambitions for the Offshore Renewable Energy sector.
Maritime Spatial Planning and Designated Maritime Area Plans
The MAP Act expands on the existing regime for maritime spatial planning required under the European Union Maritime Spatial Planning Directive. The Government issued the first such spatial plan – the National Marine Planning Framework (the NMPF) – in the summer of 2021. The NMPF sets out various objectives and policies to guide activities and development in the offshore area. The MAP Act requires a review of the NMPF no later than six years following the publication of the first NMPF.
In addition, the MAP Act allows for the establishment of “Designated Maritime Area Plans” (DMAPs). DMAPs are specific parts of the maritime area that will be designated for particular “maritime usages”. On 10 March 2023, the Government published a policy decision entitled ‘Accelerating Ireland’s Offshore Energy Programme: Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind’. This Phase 2 Policy Statement introduces a requirement that all future offshore wind farms must be built in DMAPs, which have yet to be identified. The approach to Phase 2 projects is discussed in more detail below.
Maritime Area Consent (MAC) regime
A MAC is a new “State consent” to allow for the occupation of a specified part of the maritime area. The previous equivalent was a “foreshore lease” and it is equivalent to a Crown Estate Lease in England. Such occupation may be on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis. Once established, MARA will be the authority responsible for determining MAC applications. Until then, the relevant Minister (the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications) has exercised MARA’s functions and powers in relation to the assessment of MACs. A MAC serves as the “gateway” into the development consent system. Developers are required to hold a MAC before they can apply to An Bord Pleanála for development permission.
The first seven MACs were issued by the Minister to the six Phase 1 offshore windfarm projects on 23 December 2022:-
- Oriel Wind Park
- Arklow Bank II
- Dublin Array (comprising Bray Bank and Kish Bank MACs)
- North Irish Sea Array
- Codling Wind Park (Codling I and Codling II)
- Skerd Rocks
This significant milestone for these six projects enabled all Phase One projects to begin their pre-planning application engagement with An Bord Pleanála which formally commenced in June 2023. The award of a MAC also enabled Phase One projects to participate in ORESS 1, the first auction for offshore wind under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) (see more details below).
The MAP Act requires specified categories of marine development, including, in particular, offshore renewable energy projects, to obtain planning permission under the existing planning legislation as amended by the MAP Act for that purpose.
An Bord Pleanála will be the decision-maker for offshore renewable energy project applications. The consenting regime is closely modelled on the existing consenting regime for onshore strategic infrastructure development, for which applications are also made directly to An Bord Pleanála.
Route to Market: ORESS 1 Auction Results
History was recently made with the running of the first Offshore Auction under the Government’s Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (ORESS 1). On 11 May 2023, EirGrid announced the following four projects as being provisionally successful under ORESS 1:
|1.||North Irish Sea Array (NISA)||500MW|
|3.||Codling Wind Park||1,300MW|
|4.||Sceirde Rocks Offshore Wind Farm||450MW|
The final results were issued on 14 June 2023 and there was no change to the provisional results above. Therefore, around 3.1GW of capacity has been awarded. As such, additional offshore projects will be needed to meet the 5GW target of installed capacity by 2030. This transition from Phase 1 to the longer-term enduring offshore regime is referred as Phase 2.
Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind
On 10 March 2023, the Government published its Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind (the Phase 2 Policy Statement) which commits Ireland to meet its target of delivering 5GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. The Phase 2 Policy Statement also notes that:
- The development of Phase 2 projects will be dictated in large part by the availability of onshore grid connections. EirGrid analysis highlights the current availability of onshore grid capacity for further connection of offshore renewables of approximately 700MW in total off the south coast of Ireland.
- This additional offshore wind capacity is intended to be split into two connections of 350MW each at two onshore locations along the south coast (this approach is stated to be subject to further clarification).
- So, the first auction to take place under Phase 2 – ORESS 2 – will consist of 700MW off the south coast. However, recent statements from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications suggest that the 700MW capacity available for Phase 2 Projects is likely to be increased to 900MW.
- The location of offshore wind and offshore transmission system infrastructure for Phase 2 projects will be identified through forward spatial planning through the DMAP process. This is an important change from the developer-led approach adopted for the Phase 1 projects and will apply to ORESS 2 and all subsequent ORESS auctions. For the avoidance of doubt, all Phase 2 auctions will exclusively seek to procure offshore wind capacity located within offshore renewable DMAPs.
The Climate Action Plan 2023
On 21 December 2022, the Irish Government published its Climate Action Plan 2023 (CAP 2023), which is the second annual update to Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2019. CAP 2023 is the first plan to be prepared since the enactment of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 which places a legally binding objective on the State to pursue and achieve the transition to a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy by 2050.
CAP 2023 targets at least 5GW of offshore wind by 2030, and an additional 2GW of offshore wind for green hydrogen production.
What is to come?
The Phase 2 Policy Statement commits to a new Phase 3 which targets 2GW of floating offshore wind capacity to be in development by 2030. The longer-term ‘Enduring Regime’ for ORE will, according to the Phase 2 Policy Statement, involve greater State involvement in the sustainable development of the ORE sector, through:
- further designation of maritime areas within which offshore projects will be developed;
- the timing of future development; and
- determining the optimum offshore renewable energy technology mix.
More information will be contained in the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan II (OREDP II) which is currently being developed by the Government, with public consultation having recently closed.
Offshore wind continues to represent an opportunity to not only be instrumental in Ireland achieving its 2030 target, but also to continue to send positive investment signals to the Irish market.
For more information please contact Kristen Read, senior associate on A & L Goodbody’s Environmental & Planning team or John Dallas, partner on A & L Goodbody’s Energy, Infrastructure & Natural Resources team.