Wind energy ‘revolution’ lies ahead, says Varadkar

Assessment of offshore renewable energy projects to change under marine Bill

A new planning system for offshore wind projects will create a “revolution” in wind energy, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has claimed.

The Government approved the Marine Development Bill, which would change the system of assessing applications for offshore renewable energy projects, at its last Cabinet meeting of the year.

Should the legislation, which the Government regards as a priority, come into force, it is understood that An Bord Pleanála would be responsible for granting permissions for offshore wind farms with local authorities in coastal areas also having a role.

A period of public consultation and stakeholder engagement on the proposals is to take place early in the new year. It is hoped the Bill can go forward for pre-legislative scrutiny in February and that this would take into account any issues raised during the consultation period.

A source said the proposed regime would be “radically different” and would involve a “single consent principle” to remove some of the duplication that exists in the current planning process.

Offshore and foreshore

In an interview with political correspondents, Mr Varadkar said Ireland has “fallen behind where we should be on offshore wind because our planning system, for offshore and foreshore, just doesn’t work”.

“So, it’s a new planning system, a little bit like the land planning system working with An Bord Pleanála and that will allow us to have what I believe will be a revolution in terms of offshore wind energy,” he said. “And we need to do that. We’re going to get from 30 per cent renewables now to 70 per cent by 2030.

“That’s much harder than people might think because there’s rising energy demand, and rising demand for electricity and the more data centres we have, the more electric vehicles we have, the more people we have who heat their homes with electricity rather than oil or gas or solid fuels, the more electricity we’ll need. So, we’re going to need a huge level of investment in wind energy, and solar too, and we’re going to need to make sure that happens.”

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton said in November that, under current laws, only offshore renewable energy projects within the limits of the foreshore, 12 nautical miles, can be licensed.

‘Legal lacunae’

The new Bill is expected to address what has been described as a “legal lacunae” in relation to the State’s inability to regulate such offshore projects.

Mr Varadkar said that, under the Government’s climate action plan, there would be “more investment in renewable energy, in public transport, in cycling and charging points, insulating homes and buildings, and greener agriculture and biodiversity”.

The Government has also approved the main points of the Climate Action Bill, which brings into effect the governance mechanisms around the climate action plan.

The Taoiseach said carbon budgets were being put in place as well as plans to enshrine in law a 2050 target for climate neutrality, a goal to offset emissions of greenhouse gases by planting trees or through carbon-capturing technologies.

Mr Varadkar, who has previously admitted that Ireland is a “laggard” in terms of reaching EU targets on renewable energy, said these moves would “make sure that this government and future governments have to deliver on climate action”.

Source: Jennifer Bray, The Irish Times, December 28th, 2019