Ireland Moves a Step Closer to Energy Independence
The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, announced the commencement of the Maritime Area Consent (MAC) Regime. The new regime enables the Minister, on an interim basis, to issue Maritime Area Consents (MACs) to renewable energy developers who meet the relevant assessment criteria. Developers must have a Maritime Area Consent to make an application for permission, to include environmental assessments, to An Bord Pleanála.
The Minister will assess MAC applicants in key areas, including financial and technical competency. This assessment of potential offshore developers will ensure that only the most viable offshore projects will have the opportunity to apply for permission from An Bord Pleanála, thus streamlining the process. The first MACs are expected to be issued in the second half of 2022.
Ireland’s maritime area is seven times the size of its landmass. That, along with our ideal wind conditions, and our location at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, makes the potential for offshore wind energy enormous. Ireland can become one of the leading producers of wind energy in Europe.
Speaking at the opening of the MAC application process, Minister Ryan said:
"Never has it been more vital that we use our vast offshore wind resource to create renewable energy and ensure the security of our own energy supply. The development of our offshore wind energy capacity will lessen, and eventually eradicate our dependence on imported fossil fuels, and bring an unprecedented reduction in CO2 emissions for a climate neutral future. Today marks a tangible milestone in our journey towards 80% renewable electricity by 2030, as set out in the Climate Action Plan. The door is now open for a number of developers to progress their offshore wind energy projects. We are seizing this opportunity to shape our own future, and move closer to energy independence."
The MAC regime is provided for under the recently-enacted Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Act 2021. The legislation provides for the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) – a dedicated maritime area agency which is a priority for the Government. Work on the establishment of MARA is being led by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and will be in place by Q1 2023, as set out in the Climate Action Plan. In the interim, the legislation provides the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications with the powers to assess the first batch of Maritime Area Consent (MAC) applications from a set of seven qualified Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) projects, known as "relevant projects":
- Oriel Wind Park
- RWE (previously Innogy Renewables), (2 projects – Bray and Kish Banks)
- Codling Wind Park (2 projects – Codling I and Codling II)
- Fuinneamh Sceirde Teoranta (Skerd Rocks)
- North Irish Sea Array Ltd (North Irish Sea Array)
The provision in the legislation to allow the Minister to assess applications for a MAC ensures immediate progress can be made to harness the vast resources we have, while MARA is being established. Following the initial batch of MACs, responsibility will be handed over to MARA from early 2023. MARA will assume responsibility for any MACs granted by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and the journey of those projects through the consenting and planning process will not be affected.
The design and operation of the MAC assessment regime is being developed in close collaboration with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to enable a seamless transfer of procedures and expertise to the new Agency upon establishment and continuity in the management of any consents awarded.