Equinor withdraws from Irish offshore energy project

Updated / Thursday, 4 Nov 2021 17:00

Equinor had been working with the ESB since 2019 to identify and build a portfolio of offshore projects around the Irish coast

By Will Goodbody

A Norwegian energy company that planned to develop offshore wind electricity generation capacity off the coast of Ireland in partnership with the ESB has confirmed that it is ceasing its involvement with the project.

Equinor had been working with the ESB since 2019 to identify and build a portfolio of offshore projects around the east, south and west coasts.

This included plans for a floating windfarm with generating capacity of up to 1.5GW at Moneypoint off the coasts of counties Clare and Kerry.

However, both it and the ESB have confirmed reports in the Irish Examiner that following a review of its strategy to develop profitable growth in renewables, Equinor has decided to stop its early phase offshore wind activities in Ireland.

The ESB said it was disappointed by the decision, but that it in no way diminishes the ambition of ESB to deliver an offshore wind portfolio of scale in the home market.

"Equinor has conveyed that they were very impressed with ESB's professionalism and capability and that they wish ESB every success as they continue to develop a portfolio of offshore wind projects in Irish waters," the ESB said.

A spokesperson for Equinor, formerly Statoil, told RTÉ News that there were several reasons for its decision not to proceed with its Irish plans and that such a decision was not unusual.

He said the company continuously looks at its portfolio to see how it can optimise it and is constantly entering and exiting areas in Europe and elsewhere.

He said that based on the totality of its analysis it had decided that other geographies are more interesting or promising than Ireland.

The spokesman acknowledged that the regulatory process is part of the totality of the decision.

Legislation to modernise and reform the system for developing offshore wind generation capacity is currently before the Oireachtas and is expected to be enacted before the end of the year.

The ESB said it remains fully committed to developing and delivering a major portfolio of offshore wind projects in Irish waters following the decision.

"Significant preparation work, including foreshore licence applications, has been completed and ESB believes that these projects will make an important contribution to the Programme for Government's target of 5GW of offshore wind by 2030," it said.

Wind Energy Ireland expressed its regret at Equinor’s decision, but said it underlines what industry has been warning for some time about the slow pace of planning and regulatory reform.

"We are confident we will deliver offshore wind energy in large volumes and get projects connected before the end of the decade," said Noel Cunniffe, CEO of Wind Energy Ireland.

"But this decision simply underlines what we have been saying for some time. We are not reforming Ireland's planning and regulatory framework quickly enough to develop the offshore wind we will need to meet the targets in the Climate Action Plan."

"This is leading to a lack of confidence in the industry and our international supply chain that Government must address," he added.

Offshore wind is being seen of central importance to Ireland's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emission targets in the energy sector.

'Huge' number of offshore wind developers entering Irish market despite Equinor blow

The Minister for Climate Action has said that while some offshore wind developers are leaving the market there is a "huge" number entering it.

Eamon Ryan said that there were more than 70 developers of various types in the sector.

"We want as many different developers as possible and there are a huge number coming in. Some are pulling out; we note and listen to what they're saying," the minister stated.

However, Mr Ryan insisted that there is a solution to the problems highlighted by Equinor in the form of the Maritime Area Planning Bill.

Speaking this morning on his way into Cabinet, Mr Ryan said that the planning and regulatory system to assist offshore wind is coming and will be through the Oireachtas before Christmas.

Mr Ryan said that Ireland will see the construction of offshore wind at scale over the next four to five years.