Ireland Invites Seven Offshore Wind Projects to Apply for Maritime Area Consents

Irish Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, has invited applications from the first batch of offshore wind projects for Maritime Area Consents (MACs), the first of which are expected to be issued in the second half on this year.

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

The invited projects include seven developments that were designated as “relevant projects” in 2020: Oriel Wind Park, RWE’s Bray and Kish Banks, Codling Wind Park I and II, Fuinneamh Sceirde Teoranta (Skerd Rocks), and North Irish Sea Array (NISA).

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The award of MACs to suitably qualified developers will enable the first Offshore Renewable Energy Support Scheme (ORESS) to open in Q4 2022.

Under Ireland’s new regime, offshore wind developers must have Maritime Area Consents to be able to apply for permission from An Bord Pleanála, the country’s national independent planning body.

The new regime enables the Minister, on an interim basis, to issue MACs to developers who meet the relevant assessment criteria.

According to a press release from the Department for the Environment, Climate and Communications, the Minister will assess MAC applicants in key areas, including financial and technical competency, which will ensure that only the most viable offshore wind projects will have the opportunity to apply for permission from An Bord Pleanála, thus streamlining the process.

“Never has it been more vital that we use our vast offshore wind resource to create renewable energy and ensure the security of our own energy supply. The development of our offshore wind energy capacity will lessen, and eventually eradicate our dependence on imported fossil fuels, and bring an unprecedented reduction in CO2 emissions for a climate neutral future”, Minister Ryan said at the opening of the MAC application process on 21 March.

The MAC regime, which follows the enactment of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Act in December 2021, is the first step in a new and streamlined planning process in Ireland.

While the MAP Act provides the legal underpinning for an entirely new marine planning system, the Maritime Area Consent regime assesses the viability of offshore renewable energy developers in a number of key areas before they proceed to applying for development consent and undertake environmental studies.

After the assessment and grant of the first batch of offshore wind projects, responsibility will be handed over to a new Agency – the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA), which will be established and operational from Q1 2023.

In the interim, the legislation provides the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications with the powers to assess the first batch of MAC applications from the set of seven qualified projects.

A second batch of projects will be required to enable Ireland to meet its 2030 target of 5 GW of offshore wind energy, according to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, which recently completed public consultation process on potential transparent and objective criteria to be used for Phase Two of offshore wind deployment.

The responses from this consultation are currently being assessed. It is expected that these projects will begin to progress through the new consenting system in early 2023, upon establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, the Department states.

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