Artist’s impression of the new Moneypoint Renewable Energy Hub in Co. Clare.

MONEYPOINT HAS THE POTENTIAL to generate €3bn for the Irish economy should its offshore energy plans hit full steam.

Development of a Green Atlantic Hub in Moneypoint forms part of a multi-billion euro plan by ESB in West Clare with the construction of the Atlantic’s first offshore wind farm off the coasts of Clare and Kerry.

Sean Hegarty who spent four years as the station manager of Moneypoint is now the Director of Wind Energy Projects with ESB and sits on the Shannon Estuary Taskforce, the latter of which is two thirds of the way through its work he confirmed.

Briefing Monday’s meeting of the Economic Development Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) of Clare County Council, Sean’s presentation was titled ‘Shannon Estuary an offshore wind superpower’. Moneypoint which has the second deepest port in Europe also boasts the largest grid connection in Ireland at 400V.

A socio-economic study completed by BVG Associates on the Green Atlantic plans has found it can create 200 jobs in the region and more in Ireland with over 400 long-term direct jobs for the operation phases of the project. “The GVA for the Irish economy is estimated to €3bn from this project portfolio,” €1.7bn of which is expected to be created within West Clare.

Vision showed with the Shannon Scheme and the construction of Ardnacrusha where 20 percent of ESB’s tax take for the year was invested in the project which those behind knew wouldn’t be needed for another thirty years was required today, Hegarty maintained, “Colloquially we talk of this as the Shannon Scheme 2.0”.

Although Ireland is not the biggest country in terms of population and landmass, Sean flagged, “our sea territory is ten times the landmass and we’re one of the biggest countries in Europe with our sea territory included. We’re in the absolute best possible position in terms of offshore wind resource. We extend way out into the Atlantic”.

Floating offshore wind turbines will see Ireland tap into the potential of the Shannon Estuary, the Fermanagh native predicted. He explained that the innovation in floating offshore wind technology sees a standard wind turbine sitting on top of a floater which is anchored to the seabed using chains and anchors. Moneypoint is “electrically connected through two super hi-ways,” he said and pointed out that the Shannon Estuary is “slap bang in the middle of the electrical grid for the country”.

Talk in energy circles is increasing around hydrogen which is not currently produced in Moneypoint, should the country hit levels of 2GW of hydrogen by 2030 it would be “the equivalent of two Moneypoints,” Sean stated. Hydrogen would allow for the storage of Ireland’s offshore wind energy for use when the wind is not blowing, “effectively it keeps us going the whole time”. It would also decarbonise Ireland’s industrial sectors, transport sector and agri-sector while also becoming a net energy exporter through the supply of green hydrogen to Europe.

Sean Hegarty.

Shannon Estuary is so attractive for developers of wind energy because “the wind is there and it is going to stay there, it won’t up and leave if a tax regime changes,” the man who has lived in Ennis since 1999 remarked. Deepwater facilities, the availability of land banks, strong grid and gas connections, connectivity by road, rail and air, the availability of water, wet storage and the proximity of universities also add to its credentials.

Green Atlantic will be the first big investment on the Estuary with Shannon Foynes planning a “big investment in deep port”.

Thousands of workers attached to the project “will need places to stay,” he said when pointing to the consequences which also included catering and the addition of new college courses to cater for the required skillsets while he mooted the potential of a blade factory emerging in Clare to facilitate the projects. “The big stuff will come from abroad but the smaller stuff can be made in places like Mincon in Shannon. We are going to need housing, roads and services for these people”.

There are four main components to Green Atlantic, the first of which is the synchronous condenser a €50m investment, “it is a generator connected to a large flywheel which provides inertia, it responds to conditions on the electricity grid to ensure stability is maintained, it will enable further renewable generation”.

Phase two is the Moneypoint hub, a 440 acre site which will be reconfigured, “we will ultimately disconfigure the coal yard and the jetty,” Hegarty confirmed. RPS Consulting are preparing a planning application on this which is earmarked to be lodged in January 2024. “Every square inch of the site we have a plan for every bit of it. The scale of what we have to do out there is enormous,” he outlined. The base for the offshore turbines is expected to be built out of concrete, “the structures that go with offshore wind turbines are enormous hence the significant employment to build them and all the consequential employment”.

Quayside turbine assembly is the third step and will be completed at either Moneypoint or Shannon Foynes. The turbines are likely to come in from abroad but the blades could be constructed in Ireland. “We will have to store a lot of these completed devices and then wheel them out during the spring or summer. The tow-out to the windfarm site is an opportunity for local companies with boats and all that goes with fuelling and feeding”.

Construction of two offshore windfarms is the fourth phase, one of which will be located 16km from shore and the other 35km away. They will have installed capacities of 400MW and 1000MW with the cable landing point and grid connection at Moneypoint.

Apprentices have returned to Moneypoint for the first time since the 1990s, Sean highlighted on the revival brought about by offshore energy. “We now have them and they are people who will live in Clare, instead of having three villages on a GAA team we might get back to having one, we’re going to get people with jobs who won’t need to move to London or anywhere else if we grab this opportunity. We cannot take this for granted, we can’t assume it will happen, there are plenty of countries in the world with great natural resources but they didn’t use them”.

To capitalise on the potential, an overarching policy is needed to support developments, Hegarty stressed, “the policy needs to support floating offshore wind in this decade”. A marine planning regime and resourcing, re-establishment of the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP) for the Shannon Estuary plus the creation of a regional cluster were also necessary. “There will be plenty of reasons why this won’t happen, we need to grab this opportunity and make it happen”.

“We backed ourselves in 1922, let’s do it again, we made an enormous step in 1922 and bet the house on something that wouldn’t be needed for another thirty years, we took an enormous step as a young State and we have the opporunity to do it again on the Shannon Estuary,” he concluded.

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