Ireland Passes Key Bill for Offshore Wind, Moves Onto Strategy for Port Development

Ireland’s Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021 has passed through all stages of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament), bringing a simpler permitting process for offshore wind development and, according to the Irish government, marking the biggest reform of marine governance since the foundation of the State.

Arklow Bank offshore wind farm in Ireland. Image source: Alpha Marine (archive)

The country, which has a target of 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030 and a long-term plan to tap into its floating wind potential of at least 30 GW in deeper waters, opened a consultation on its first auction to supply electricity from offshore wind under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (ORESS 1) this Autumn.

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However, before Ireland could launch its first offshore wind auction, a several milestones are required, including the enactment of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Bill, which replaces existing State and development consent regimes and streamlines arrangements on the basis of a single consent principle, i.e. one State consent (Maritime Area Consent) to enable occupation of the Maritime Area and one development consent (planning permission), with a single environmental assessment.

The bill is a key component of the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), Ireland’s first national framework for managing marine activities, launched this Summer. 

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The MAP Bill passed all stages of the Oireachtas on 17 December. Three days later, the government released a Policy Statement on developing port infrastructure to support offshore wind projects.

Ireland’s Department of Transport, in conjunction with the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO), carried out an assessment of the options for Irish commercial State Ports to facilitate the offshore renewable energy sector.

The key recommendation following the assessment is that a number of port facilities will be required for deployment activity and multiple ports will be needed for operation and maintenance (O&M).

“To meet Ireland’s target of 5GW by 2030, it is clear that a minimum of two facilities will be required from 2025 onwards for deployment activity. A multiple of typically smaller ports will be needed for O&M operations”, the Department states in the Policy Statement.

This will ultimately allow investments that are commercially viable in the long-term progress without undermining the ability of any port to meet its primary obligations in relation to the facilitation of international trade, the Department of Transport stated, adding that a Ports Co-ordination Group will be established to coordinate port responses and maintain policy alignment.