Minister says good environmental planning practice is essential for all marine projects
Ireland’s energy transition and large-scale offshore wind deployment should be seen as “a shared societal project, rather than a developer-led project,” warned environmentalist Oisín Coghlan.
Offering practical advice to those supporting the necessary development of offshore renewables, the Friends of the Earth director said the lack of public engagement – including public participation and public ownership – meant construction infrastructure risked being more difficult for the state and for developers.
There were useful lessons from the onshore wind development and the controversial Corrib Gas project that needed to be considered, he said during a webinar hosted by Green MEP for Dublin Ciarán Cuffe on the offshore energy exploitation of Ireland and the EU.
A surprising opposition arose, he recalls; “Feeling helpless; being put on, doing things to their surroundings without their consent ”were common reactions.
With offshore wind, there was a need for energy democracy, good planning and shared ownership – and efforts had to be made to prevent it from becoming “a lightning rod for public anxiety” in other areas, a- he suggested.
Currently, this was reflected in public lectures on the huge demands for power from data centers, and attitudes suggesting that “it’s not for us, it’s not for a better society”, but rather for the benefit. multinationals.
The rapid deployment of offshore wind power will be controversial, especially off the east coast, as large turbines will be so visible on the horizon; “We have to be frank about visual effects,” Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan said.
But this needs to be seen against the backdrop of the benefits of the renewable energy levels that would be generated and of fulfilling Ireland’s climate ambitions, he added.
“Large-scale offshore wind” has opened up the possibility of generating seven times more than Ireland’s current electricity production, he said. About 5 gigawatts (GW) was projected by 2030, with 30 GW over the following decades as more floating turbines are installed in deeper water further offshore.
Technical advancements and cost reductions meant these goals could prove to be conservative and could be achieved more quickly in line with accelerated climate action, he said.
The main facilitation mechanism would be the forthcoming Maritime Area Planning Bill, which would integrate all offshore planning, including fisheries, the establishment of marine protected areas and aquaculture.
“It is absolutely essential that we put good environmental planning practices at the heart of everything we do,” added Mr. Ryan.
As the turbines got bigger they were more visible on the horizon, but their size meant less was needed. He believed that with the right approach, they could protect seabirds and marine habitats.
An improved network interconnected to Europe was essential, with cooperation with the UK regardless of Brexit, he said. “It won’t work if we go it alone.”
Mainstream Renewable Power’s Eddie O’Connor said Ireland in the short term is on the verge of getting ‘free electricity’ from the Irish Sea and in the long term will exploit its competitive advantage from the Irish Sea. offshore wind power by supplying Europe with green energy.
But the system of consent and licensing had to be adapted and an adequate grid put in place. The issue of ‘belt congestion’ in Dublin had to be addressed as the problem could ‘derail the green agenda’, to which the government has committed, and could limit production in the Irish Sea to just 1 , 5 GW.
As a result, said O’Connor, the eastern region could not accommodate new data centers and the Dublin Bus green electricity fleet could not be renewed.
“We cannot commit to 100% green transportation until we install a high density, fast charging and easily accessible charging system – until the grid issue is resolved.”
More generally, it was necessary to accept that in Ireland’s energy transition, either the cables had to be buried in the ground or the existing overhead lines had to be replaced with larger conductors to allow greater transmission of power. energy.
The deployment of superconductivity technology would be a perfect fit for the city, as it leaves a small footprint with virtually no power loss, he said.
At European level, a super-grid was needed to cover wind energy produced in large quantities in northern Europe and solar energy in the Mediterranean, which would also allow large-scale production of hydrogen and gas. ‘green ammonia.
As the burning gas produces great qualities of CO2, he called for caution with the gas lobby touting the virtues of “blue hydrogen,” which is produced from natural gas combined with carbon capture technology.
Ireland risked not meeting its own targets for offshore wind installations unless there was greater ambition and coordination from all government departments, Cuffe said.
“Ocean energy is necessary if we are to achieve our goals under the European Green Agreement. In Ireland, we need concerted thinking to protect our habitats and fishing grounds, as well as to achieve our offshore targets for renewable electricity produced at sea. ”
Peter Le Froy of RWE Renewables said Ireland is currently a small offshore player and will be left behind if it does not act quickly. This would mean slower delivery of projects and increased costs, which is not in anyone’s best interest. It was essential that only competent developers obtain consents for offshore wind farms, rather than speculators.
Philip Lee Solicitors’ environmental lawyer Alice Whittaker warned that judges view maritime legislation as “a messy patchwork” that was almost impenetrable to the public and may not comply with the Aarhus Directive. The new bill risked the same fate, she added, so the government had to bring in outside expertise to make sure it was fair.
This was essential to ensure plan-driven development with a flexible design approach that was also in line with EU law, she said.