ARKLOW Harbour has beaten Wicklow to become the future operations and maintenance base for SSE Renewables' planned expansion of Ireland's first operating wind farm.
An industry source said that Arklow had won out chiefly because it was closer to the site than Wicklow Port, while Belfast Port was the most likely construction hub for the project, the source added.
In a joint announcement, SSE and Wicklow County Council said Arklow's south dock will be redeveloped as the base for supporting future operations of Arklow Bank. They expect 80 full-time jobs at the facility once the second phase is completed in 2025.
The existing seven-turbine farm at Arklow Bank - built in 2004 as an early test of offshore technology - currently is Ireland's only offshore wind farm and generates 25 megawatts. That is one-fortieth of one gigawatt, the goal set by the State for Ireland's offshore wind generation by 2025.
The second phase, using more powerful turbines, is designed to generate 520 megawatts using 80 to 100 turbines at the site along a swathe of the Irish Sea some 7 kilometres to 13 kilometres offshore.
However, SSE first must identify a construction hub for assembling the massive turbines. No Republic of Ireland port currently has the capacity to host these operations, which require 80-tonne cranes, reinforced quaysides and large warehouses.
An industry source said Belfast Port was most likely to be the construction hub, although a final decision will be made nearer the planned start of construction in 2023.
Once the turbines become operational, Arklow will be the primary operations base.
SSE said the south dock facility would include new purpose-built offices, warehouses for storing turbine parts and other stock for repairs, and quayside berthing for up to four crew transfer vessels.
The facility also will be a magnet for local firms to contribute to SSE's supply chain, including specialists in ship repairs and site surveying, fuel supply, hospitality, logistics and stevedoring.
SSE Renewables said it picked Arklow over Wicklow after analysing both sites and collecting views from commercial, fishery and recreational users of both facilities.
"Both Wicklow Port and Arklow Harbour offer very attractive facilities for any offshore wind developer," said Barry Kilcline, director of development at SSE Renewables. "We are very confident that both Wicklow and Arklow will see significant commercial uplift and urban regeneration as a result of the economic boost from our planned investment in construction and operation of Arklow Bank Wind Park."
SSE said it had agreed an option to buy an industrial yard on the south dock known locally as the 'old shipyard' and options to take over existing lease agreements with Wicklow County Council for adjoining sites. SSE also would acquire part of the south dock quayside for vessel berthing and pontoons.
When complete, SSE said Arklow Bank would be able to power 500,000 homes and offset 600,000 tonnes of carbon gases - representing 1pc of the State's annual emissions.
The Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Irene Winters, said the expanded Arklow Bank would promote Wicklow "as a centre of excellence for the offshore renewable energy sector".
Wicklow Council CEO Frank Curran said it "will act as a catalyst for the regeneration and renewal of Arklow Harbour and the entire town".