Contracts awarded for four offshore wind farms in €9bn drive for clean electricity

Turbines off the coast could provide 25pc of our electricity needs by 2030

Friends of the Earth said the plans were vital in the move away from fossil fuels. Stock image© Getty Images/Image Source

Caroline O'Doherty

A breakthrough moment for the nation’s clean energy ambitions has been declared after the development of four offshore wind farms moved a step closer to reality.

Four projects, three on the east coast and one on the west, have won state-backed contracts to supply huge volumes of green electricity with prices guaranteed for 20 years.

They must now apply for planning permission, with the possibility they could face challenges on environmental and other grounds.

They must also finalise an estimated €9bn in financial backing from global investors and find ports to import and assemble the 320-metre-tall wind turbines they plan to use.

If they clear those hurdles, they could be in operation and supplying more than a quarter of the country’s entire electricity needs by 2030.

National policy is behind them. The Government’s Climate Action Plan wants 5,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity from offshore wind by 2030.

The contracts awarded yesterday after a competitive auction under the Offshore Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (ORESS) total just over 3,000MW.

Six companies entered the auction, the four lowest bidders securing a guaranteed price of €86 per megawatt hour (MWh) of power generated.

By comparison, the average price of electricity on the wholesale market during the energy crisis last year was €200 per MWh.

That fell to €110-€130 recently but as the Government had set a maximum bid price of €150, having firms bid at the average price of €86 is being hailed as a win for consumers.

Officials have suggested it could mean collective savings on bills for households and businesses running to hundreds of millions of euro a year.

Under the guarantee, if the wholesale market dips below €86, the firms will get a top-up payment from the State but if the wholesale market pays more than €86, they will give the excess to the State.

The contracts assume there will be sufficient wind to turn the turbines 45pc of the time.

The largest successful project is the Codling Wind Park, which expects to install up to 100 turbines along a 20km stretch from Greystones to Wicklow town, the closest about 13km from shore.

It is a French-Norwegian project from EDF and Fred Olsen and would supply 1,300MW of power.

Just north of that, the Dublin Array, backed by German company RWE, would generate 824MW from about 50 turbines on the Kish and Bray Banks, roughly 10km out from Dublin Bay.

Slightly further north again, the North Irish Sea Array, a 500MW project backed by Norway’s Statkraft, would install 36 turbines about 12km out from Balbriggan.

The only west coast project, the Sceirdre Rocks 450MW wind farm, backed by UK-headquartered Corio Generation, is earmarked for a site starting roughly 5km from Connemara in Galway.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the auction was a breakthrough moment for our energy future and the results were “hugely positive” for climate and consumers.

“The results are further evidence of what many of us have known for a long time: that we, as a nation, can develop and produce enormous quantities of clean energy – securely and at low cost.”

The ESB-backed Oriel Wind Park proposed for off Co Louth and the SSE Renewables project earmarked for off the coast of Arklow, Co Wicklow, were unsuccessful.

Industry body Wind Energy Ireland said it would work with them to find them other opportunities.

Friends of the Earth welcomed the results as a landmark step in the move away from fossil fuels.

“At the same time, we must make sure that coastal communities are properly consulted during planning and that we protect nature around the wind farms,” chief executive Oisín Coghlan said.

The auction results are provisional as there is an appeals process. Final results are to be confirmed next month.