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Plans for a €2bn floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Moneypoint have been dealt a major setback with the developer of the project leaving the Irish market.

Leading developer, Equinor has withdrawn from the Irish market with dissatisfaction with the regulatory and planning regime currently in place for offshore energy development said to be one of the main reasons for their decision. They informed ESB in recent weeks they were pulling out of the partnership.

Equinor had been in partnership with ESB since 2019 with the aim of delivering a large portion of the 80% of electricity which the country aspires to generate from renewable sources by 2030. The Norwegian company formerly known as Statoil.

This major setback comes on the day the Government is due to publish its Climate Action Bill.

In April, ESB and Equinor announced plans to develop a Green Atlantic Hub in Moneypoint as part of a multi-billion euro plan. Hundreds of jobs were forecast with 600 of these in the construction of an offshore wind farm of 1,400MW off the coasts of Clare and Kerry. It was to become the first offshore wind farm on The Atlantic and was set to cost €2bn.

2028 was the target for the first phase to be in operation by with 1.6 million homes to be powered as a result of Green Atlantic. Green Atlantic was to be one hundred percent owned by ESB while the offshore wind farm was a split fifty fifty ownership between ESB and Equinor.

Speaking to The Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for Equinor said, “the decision is based on many things and obviously the regulatory process would be part of that but it is just a part of the totality. We won’t comment in detail on how much the regulatory process was involved in the company decision”.

ESB “remains fully committed to developing and delivering a major portfolio of offshore wind projects in Irish waters following the decision by Equinor not to continue with offshore wind development in Ireland at this time,” a spokesperson outlined.

“While ESB is disappointed with the decision by Equinor to withdraw from Irish offshore wind development, this in no way diminishes the ambition of ESB to deliver an offshore wind portfolio of scale in our home market. The ESB team is making strong progress on the development work associated with an exciting multi-GW portfolio of projects. The first of these projects, Oriel Wind Farm in partnership with Parkwind, will enter into the first offshore wind renewable auction in 2022. We are confident that ESB will have a significant role to play in the delivery of new offshore wind in Ireland, both fixed and floating, to 2030 and beyond,” the spokesperson added.

Clare TD, Violet-Anne Wynne remarked that the decision represented “devastating news for West Clare”. She outlined, “It is a devastating blow for the community in West Clare. There have been very scant details about what the ‘Green Atlantic’ project is actually going to look like. The €2bn. offshore windfarm in the pipeline, using floating technology seemed like positive movement in the right direction.

“However now, the future of the project is called into question. Are other foreign investment partners going to be similarly offput by Ireland’s excessive bureaucracy in terms of planning and regulation? I appreciate that the Maritime Area Planning Bill is going through the houses at the moment but energy experts warn that the protracted nature of this process will have detrimental effects on how responsive we are to adapting to the challenges presented by Climate Change. It would have provided 1.4GW of the overall national total of 5GW making it one of the main wind energy infrastructures in the country. The youth in the area are crying out for jobs and this project would have provided opportunities for a very disenfranchised youth”.

Deputy Wynne concluded, “Planning applications began for this project in 2019. Now in 2021 – we come to learn that Equinor has pulled out. That is two years wasted. The battle against Climate Change is a battle against time. The extremely protracted nature of planning and regulation processes in this country will have to change is we stand any chance at dramatically and rapidly changing our energy infrastructure in line with COP26 and other carbon reduction commitments”.

Cathaoirleach of the West Clare Municipal District, Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) said he was “beyond furious” to learn of the risk to the Moneypoint project. “Offshore wind is extremely costly to develop and needs regulatory certainty for investors, the lack of progress in providing that certainty is extremely frustrating. This development is critical for West Clare”.

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