Wind farm developers are cutting turbine numbers and offering communities funding pots of over €60m as they lay out plans for extensive projects off the east coast.
A “smaller but higher” approach is being adopted as they seek to reduce their footprint at sea by using fewer but taller, more powerful turbines.
They are also offering to distribute grants to local communities before they begin operating as “early contribution payments” under new community benefit fund guidelines.
Five projects proposed for the sea off counties Louth, Meath, Dublin and Wicklow are ramping up activities as they prepare to apply for electricity supply contracts, the next step before submitting planning applications later this year.
Visual and environmental impacts are expected to raise most concerns at planning stage.
Three projects are currently engaged in a fresh round of public consultations.
The largest is the Codling Wind Park, proposed for a stretch of sea running roughly parallel to the coastline between Greystones, Co Wicklow and Wicklow town.
Its latest design shows a reduction in turbine numbers from 140 to 100, but the installations would stretch to 320 metres at full height.
That is taller than anything currently installed anywhere in the world, although projects planned internationally intend to go this high – and higher.
The Dublin Array – proposed for the sea roughly parallel to the coastline between Bray, Co Wicklow, and Blackrock, Co Dublin – at one stage proposed 145 turbines but is now down to 39-50. Its developers say they can aim for the smaller number with a higher turbine reaching 310 metres.
Off Co Louth, the proposed Oriel Wind Farm has reduced from 55 to 25 turbines but with a height increase up to 270 metres. Two more Irish Sea projects, the North Irish Sea Array and the Arklow Bank Wind Park have yet to begin their latest round of public consultation. A design update is also awaited for a sixth offshore project, Sceirde Rocks off Co Galway.
Justin Moran of industry body, Wind Energy Ireland, said the move to cut turbine numbers was positive.
“If you can find a way to generate the amount of power you need with fewer turbines then you should be looking to do that because it’s better from a visual impact point of view and an environmental point of view,” he said.
“The fewer turbines you are putting into the seabed the better for everyone. It’s possible because of technological improvements but, as well, companies are listening to the feedback they are getting from coastal communities and marine area users and they’re trying to find ways to make this work more effectively.”
Along with reducing their footprint, developers are promoting the cash on offer as part of the community benefit funds that will be set up.
Regulations require renewable electricity projects to contribute €2 to the local community for every megawatt hour of electricity they generate.
Based on a 500 megawatt (MW) wind farm operating at 45pc capacity over 15 years, that would raise €60m for the community.
The offshore wind farms currently proposed go up to 1,450MW and could run for 25 years or longer so funding could be considerably higher.
Under new early contribution payment arrangements, companies will be able to pay out before they begin generating electricity.
More than 300 wind farms are already in operation onshore, with more planned, but the Government is pinning hopes on the much greater generating capacity of offshore wind to meet climate action targets.
They require 80pc of electricity to come from renewables by 2030 – more than
doubling the current provision in seven years.