*Planning is envisaged to be obtained by 2026 with construction hoped to commence thereafter. 

A REPLACEMENT PARTNER FOR EQUINOR to develop a major wind farm off the coast of West Clare is to be announced next month.

Norwegian firm, Equinor had been the original partner with ESB for its Green Atlantic project to develop 1.4GW wind farm using floating technology, at a cost of €2 billion in Moneypoint.

Thirteen months ago, Equinor withdrew from the Irish market, a decision which was motivated by the local regulatory uncertainty and came after a review of its strategy to develop profitable growth in renewables.

Former President of Ennis Chamber questioned ESB’s Sean Hegarty at a sitting of the Economic Development SPC this week on a replacement. “This is crucial, we’re sitting on the goldmine that we don’t have to mine,” he remarked on the potential for offshore renewables in the county. “We lost Equinor as a partner, talking about 1.5GW in plan, where are we with new partner? Simply Blue are in a transition section, they’ve lost Shell, from the planning of offshore farms where are we,” he questioned.

Hegarty ESB’s Director of Wind Energy Projects said a replacement will be announced in January. “Equinor and Shell both left the market, I spoke about urgency and not assuming it won’t happen, both stated they had opportunities elsewhere, we are very close, we are running a competition for a new partner and we are very closer to announcing a replacement partner for Equinor, I suspect we will have someone within next month, we haven’t been short of significant people in this game wanting to join us”.

He added, “Someone said to me recently it’s only when we want to win the lottery, I think that’s very dangerous, just because it’s there doesn’t mean it will come, we need to set ourselves up correctly”.

Chair of the SPC, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) praised Sean for a “hugely astonishing presentation”. He referenced Brendan O’Regan and Sean Lemass as visionary figures from the past but expressed worry with the absence of a Mid-West voice at Cabinet.

Ardnacrushsa must remain a key factor of the country’s green energy, Cllr Michael Begley (IND) stressed as he pointed out “that it is now reduced in capacity to accommodate excessive wind energy peaks, I don’t understand why we would compromise one output for another”.

West Clare’s road infrastructure was brought into focus by Cllr PJ Ryan (IND), “for any major projects I don’t think the road infrastructure is good enough, it’s extremely busy at the moment and there are regular accidents at the moment. We would need a lot of Government finance to improve the road infrastructure at the moment”. The former Mayor of Clare voiced concern with Shannon Foynes’ “control” on the Estuary, “they’re putting back in a rail link and improving the road infrastructure, I would be concerned that we could lose out”.

Road infrastructure will not be improved, Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) warned. “A political tug of war is already underway, it is important we try to mutilise it. I was on a Council back in the 1980s when Moneypoint was on the way, I brought up the condition of the road, I was cautioned by two sitting TDs to stay quiet as there would be no Moneypoint if I kept going, it was a mistake to stay quiet, the road will not be put in now”.

Although no Mid-West representative sits at the Cabinet, Sean said the presence of Minister for Climate, Communications and Energy, Eamon Ryan (GP) who visited Moneypoint last month is a positive, “We’ve a Green Minister very committed to the concept, he might not be local but he sees the opportunity it presents for us”. He was surprised by Begley’s comments that wind energy was displacing hydro energy or Ardnacrusha. “We work very closely with Shannon Foynes, they are absolutely working to put in place some of the measures needed. There is plenty of opportunity in Clare with the likes of Cahercon, there is enough for us all”.

Having worked in the onshore renewable energy sector for the past two decades, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) recalled lengthy delays associated with some projects, one of which took from 1999 to 2019 to move from the planning stage. “Anything Sean has been involved in with the renewables has produced the goods,” he stated. Creation of a regional structure is “crucial” to plans at Moneypoint, “as a region we have to work together, there’s enough opportunity for us all”.

Plans to protect the marine environment were queried by environment representative, Emma Karran. “You talked already about involving the local area and the community, how much of this will be bringing in private companies, the danger of private companies is that things and the money disappears, will it be State owned? What will it look like in terms of ownership”.

ESB are hopeful to obtain planning permission in 2026 and to commence construction thereafter, “we don’t see first windfarm as a 2030 project, we see it as something that can be energised in this decade,” Hegarty outlined. He explained that a marine regulatory are as has set out all zones with an Irish authority to ensure the marine environment is protected.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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