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Energy tsar is needed to deliver ambitious offshore wind plan

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The Farra Orla, one of Farra Marine's crew–transport vehicles

The Farra Orla, one of Farra Marine's crew–transport vehicles

'Without a complete rethink in how we deliver offshore wind projects, Ireland has no hope of delivery'

'Without a complete rethink in how we deliver offshore wind projects, Ireland has no hope of delivery'

'An offshore wind energy tsar whose only focus is working with departments and agencies to ensure that this nascent indigenous industry can thrive might be the best approach,' says Martin Rice of Farra Marine

'An offshore wind energy tsar whose only focus is working with departments and agencies to ensure that this nascent indigenous industry can thrive might be the best approach,' says Martin Rice of Farra Marine

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The Farra Orla, one of Farra Marine's crew–transport vehicles

The Government needs to immediately appoint an offshore wind energy tsar if it is to have any hope of meeting even a sizeable portion of its 2030 targets.

Lofty ambitions are all very well – but unless we see radical change in how we deliver offshore wind energy projects, there is little reason to be optimistic that these will ever be anything other than pipe dreams.

Last week, the nine European states that make up the North Seas Energy Co-operation (NESC) group committed themselves to generating 10pc of European electricity from wind energy by 2030. This would require those states to increase offshore wind production from the present level of 28GW to 300GW. To mark the occasion, Ireland reiterated its claim that we would generate 7GW of electricity from offshore turbines by 2030.

Without a complete rethink in how we deliver offshore wind projects, Ireland has no hope of delivery.

Just ask those working in the industry. Only last week a survey showed that 69pc of professionals in offshore wind energy believe the targets are either “extremely challenging” or “completely unrealistic”.

While our neighbours forge ahead with energy development, transitioning effectively away from fossil fuel in a way that reduces Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, successive Irish government policies have left us dependent on fossil fuels – while facing astronomical price increases, power outages and overall energy insecurity.

Worse still, as things stand it looks as if the government departments and agencies tasked with delivering offshore wind projects and creating a domestic supply chain are set to repeat the same mistakes of neighbouring countries, instead of learning from them.

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'An offshore wind energy tsar whose only focus is working with departments and agencies to ensure that this nascent indigenous industry can thrive might be the best approach,' says Martin Rice of Farra Marine

'An offshore wind energy tsar whose only focus is working with departments and agencies to ensure that this nascent indigenous industry can thrive might be the best approach,' says Martin Rice of Farra Marine

'An offshore wind energy tsar whose only focus is working with departments and agencies to ensure that this nascent indigenous industry can thrive might be the best approach,' says Martin Rice of Farra Marine

We may be cooperating with the eight other members of the NESC when it comes to issuing press releases about unrealistic targets – but we are in direct competition with them when it comes to the increasingly scarce resources necessary to realise those targets.

Take skills. There is currently a significant skills shortage for offshore wind. This is a new industry area. My own company, Farra Marine, had to look to Europe to find executives with the relevant experience.

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We need immediate and concentrated efforts to ensure we bring new people into the industry. We need an offshore opportunities roadshow to travel the country and explain what vacancies will arise and the qualifications needed.

Sustainable energy projects, which tend to have a lifespan of about 20 years, produce sustainable jobs. Across Europe, many roles are filled by our own Irish people. Let’s bring them home, and utilise their skills here.

Government departments need to be staffed up by people with the expertise necessary to deliver the targets. The same departments need to get out and visit other countries to see how they are managing. This is new territory for everybody – but some countries seem better able to navigate it than others.

Enterprise Ireland does prioritise renewable energy projects, but it has a very narrow focus. Turbines do not just pop up on their own. There is a necessary ecosystem.

IDA Ireland has realised this very successfully when it comes to FDI, but it would seem this lesson has not been learned when it comes to nurturing entire domestic sectors, as opposed to individual business. We need to rethink how we foster the Irish businesses necessary to realise the potential of offshore wind.

Another challenge lies in where the ships needed to build and service offshore turbines will come from. This is a subject closer to our heart, given that our company is one of the principal suppliers of those ships across Europe.

Only last week industry players in Ireland heard from executives around Europe of significant shortages in offshore wind vessels. You would be hard pressed to lease a ship for offshore wind farms this side of 2025. Try building an offshore wind farm without them.

Ireland has a huge opportunity in offshore renewables – but will require a rapid step change. Government bodies like the Marine Survey Office need to be proactive, to create codes and classes for vessels’ codes that have already been adopted across Europe.

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'Without a complete rethink in how we deliver offshore wind projects, Ireland has no hope of delivery'

'Without a complete rethink in how we deliver offshore wind projects, Ireland has no hope of delivery'

'Without a complete rethink in how we deliver offshore wind projects, Ireland has no hope of delivery'

These vessels have developed from very small fibreglass units to multi-engine, multi-role vessels capable of carrying 24 technicians and 20 tonnes of cargo. Very specific requirements laid down by the developers must be fulfilled – but we currently have nothing in place.

None of this is particularly complicated or challenging. We need the right people, the right regulation, the right infrastructure, the right boats and the right policies to support indigenous business.

The thing is, we need them all now.

An offshore wind energy tsar whose only focus is working with departments and agencies to ensure that this nascent indigenous industry can thrive might be the best approach.

Offshore wind can deliver the low-cost stable electricity prices that are so badly needed by Irish consumers and business alike. Look around Europe, you will see the huge benefits the industry brings to economies and coastal communities.

Now is the time we should be fast-tracking the development of offshore wind, removing barriers and enabling industry. Our energy sovereignty depends on it. If we don’t, we risk entering a darkness of failure.

Martin Rice is CEO of Farra Marine, a supplier of crew–transport vehicles for the offshore wind energy sector


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