Construction on the first offshore windfarms is likely to begin by 2025, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has told The Southern Star.
And Minister Ryan added that a comprehensive consultation process in advance of that will take into account concerns which have been voiced by the fishing industry, environmentalists and tourism-related firms.
In a special report in this week’s Southern Star, a number of organisations and observers have voiced their fears over the extensive scale and size of the many projects planned.
Minister Ryan’s Climate Change Bill has outlined the huge role that the offshore energy industry will have in helping Ireland meet its carbon reduction targets.
‘Offshore energy will help us to meet our carbon targets which need to be 70% of renewables by the end of the decade, and zero by 2050,’ he told The Southern Star in an exclusive interview.
‘The initial developments will be in the Irish Sea, many of which are transitional projects, but by the end of the decade we will have moved into other areas [along the coast],’ Minister Ryan explained.
And he said that benefits would not just come from the energy generation itself, but from the growth in local economies where the energy comes ashore. ‘There will be economic opportunities accruing to the likes of Waterford and Cork harbours, as industry tends to come close to where the power supply is,’ he explained.
And he said that offshore projects offer much greater options than onshore farms, as Ireland’s sea area is 10 times its land area, and the stormy Atlantic is an ideal environment for wind generation.
Minister Ryan said that fears expressed regarding the dispersal of whale and dolphin populations due to construction or operation of large scale windfarms should be allayed by the government’s insistence on ‘best environmental practice’ for the windfarms, and that the Department is very aware of issues like fish breeding grounds and other marine activities.
Minister Ryan said it should be remembered that the wind energy would be replacing the oil and gas industry in many of these areas.
He predicted that the start of the process to approve planning for these projects will be early next year, and the first major windfarms should be under construction by 2025.
But this will begin only after a comprehensive consultation process with all interested bodies has concluded, he reassured.
‘A lot of other projects in Europe have used Irish engineers and expertise so we have that expertise ready to go,’ he said, ‘but we need to have public acceptance right from the start.’
He said he also hoped there would be a ‘public ownership’ element to some of the projects, and also an element of public ownership of the grid itself.
‘There may well be legal challenges and people are entitled to that, but if we get the consultation right, and the legislation right, I am sure nobody would want to be in the courts.’
Winds of change: We’ll be publishing parts 1, 2 and 3 of our special report into off-shore windfarms throughout the week. Part 1 is available now and can be read here.