Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Renewable Energy Generation

10:30 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Ireland has one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world with a sea area of 490,000 sq. km, which is approximately seven times the size of our landmass. Ireland’s location at the Atlantic edge of the EU means that we have more offshore energy potential than most countries in Europe. The Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, which recently completed Committee Stage in the Dáil, will enable the realisation of our offshore renewable energy ambitions by establishing well-regulated developments, streamlined consent and comprehensive environmental assessment of proposals and consultative processes to better enable community investment and engagement.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is developing terms and conditions for the first offshore wind auction under the offshore renewable electricity support scheme, ORESS 1. It will support the first phase of offshore wind development in Ireland. All offshore wind energy development will be required to make community benefit fund contributions and, owing to the larger scale of offshore wind developments, these contributions are expected to be significantly larger than those from their onshore counterparts. Additionally, as a result of the longer construction period required by offshore wind projects, mechanisms for early community benefit are included in the draft ORESS 1 terms and conditions, which are now undergoing public consultation until December.

The Senator mentioned the national managed fund proposals. To better account for the increased governance requirements of offshore funds, the ambiguity of the offshore community and the increased State aid risk posed by benefits payable to certain marine community members, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is proposing that the offshore community benefit fund be managed at a national level. The main role of the national fund manager, as proposed, would be to support local decision-making by undertaking the administrative obligations and burdens of collecting and managing the funds on behalf of the local community. The local community would then be left free to concentrate on decision-making on funding applications and implementation. In no way is a nationally administered fund intended to weaken local community decision-making. The proposal is also expected to reduce administrative overheads and to realise a greater proportion of funds for expenditure in coastal and marine communities. The proposal for a national fund is also included in our ORESS 1 consultation and will be subject to the feedback received by that process. The Department has also highlighted that community benefit funds will be open to all communities, inclusively and equitably. In this regard, as part of the ORESS 1 consultation process, views are invited regarding how the fishing and seafood sectors can be inclusively engaged as a part of the wider community.

Significant investment in Ireland’s offshore renewable energy sector through ORESS will deliver considerable benefits to coastal communities more generally in respect of high-value jobs and indigenous supply chains. A cross-departmental offshore renewable energy team, chaired by officials from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, is being established to capture wider economic and business opportunities associated with the development of offshore renewables in Ireland. The significant role of regional ports in the development of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy sector and the need for investment in port infrastructure will also benefit local coastal communities through employment and commercial opportunities. A review of the national ports policy by the Department of Transport will consider the port infrastructure development required to facilitate Ireland’s future offshore renewable energy sector.


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