Supporting Policies for Ocean Energy


The Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP)
Ireland’s Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) published in 2014 highlights Ireland’s focus on stimulating industry-led projects for the development and deployment of ocean energy devices and systems. The OREDP identifies resources for increasing indigenous production of renewable electricity, contributing to reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions, improving the security of our energy supply and creating jobs in the green economy. The OREDP sets out key principles, policy actions and enablers for the delivery of Ireland's significant potential in this area. The development of a new Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan is due to commence in 2021. The new OREDP will set out the Government’s policy for the sustainable development of our abundant offshore renewable energy resources.
Policy development for Marine Consenting
Over the course of 2020, there has been significant progress made in relation to policy for offshore renewable development.  Ireland’s ambitions for the offshore renewable energy sector are contingent on delivering a licensing and regulatory regime for offshore renewable energy. This will provide certainty to project promoters and provide a pathway to realising the necessary investment in offshore renewable energy. Work is underway to develop Ireland’s first marine spatial plan. The plan, which will be known as the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF)[1], will set out the Irish Government's long-term planning objectives and priorities for the management of our seas over a 20-year time frame. The plan will set out specific objectives and marine planning policies for all the activities taking place in Ireland's seas, from aquaculture through to waste water treatment. All these activities will be contextualised within the pillars of their economic, environmental and social considerations. The NMPF will also set out the proposed future approach to the adoption of spatial designations for marine activities including offshore renewable energy development, or designated marine protected areas, and taking account of the existing network of designated European sites under the Birds and Habitat Directives by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is intended that the plan will be submitted to the Commission by Q1 2021.
The Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage are currently preparing the Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) Bill[2]. The MPDM Bill seeks to establish into law a new marine planning system, which is underpinned by a statutory Marine Planning Statement, and guided by the NMPF. It consists of a development management regime from the high-water mark to the outer limit of the State’s continental shelf administered by An Bord Pleanála and the coastal local authorities. It will provide a modern, up-to-date regulatory and marine planning framework for offshore renewable energy developments beyond the limits of the foreshore (12 nautical miles). This will be an important foundation for investment in the offshore renewable energy sector as well as providing a more transparent, participative system for all marine stakeholders. The MPDM will also streamline procedures using a single consent principle: one state consent (Maritime Area Consent (MAC)) to enable occupation of the Maritime Area and one development consent (planning permission), with a single environmental assessment. The passage of the legislation has been prioritised to ensure that the new consenting model, as well as implementation of a new offshore grid connection policy that lines up with the RESS auction timeframes will ultimately deliver our 2030 targets.
National Energy and Climate Plan
eland's draft National Energy & Climate Plan (NECP) 2021-2030 was submitted to the European Commission in December 2018. The draft NECP took into account energy and climate policies developed up to that point, the levels of demographic and economic growth identified in the Project 2040 process and included all of the climate and energy measures set out in the National Development Plan 2018-2027.

In 2019, the NECP was updated to incorporate all planned policies and measures that were identified up to the end of 2019 and which collectively deliver a 30% reduction by 2030 in non-ETS greenhouse gas emissions (from 2005 levels). Trajectories for ocean energy production in Ireland of 30 MW by 2030 and 110 MW by 2040 are included in the most recent version of this Plan.

Under the Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, which was published in 2020, Ireland committed to achieving a 7% annual average reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2021 and 2030. Ireland is currently developing policies and measures to meet this target via the Climate Action Plan and intend to integrate these into a revision of the NECP.
Currently there is no relevant roadmap or legislation in place governing ocean energy development in Ireland. The OREDP (outlined above) is considered the most appropriate guiding policy. The OREDP is underpinned by a Strategic Environmental Assessment and is due for comprehensive review in 2021.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) has responsibility for Ocean Energy in Ireland. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) was established as Ireland's national energy authority under the Sustainable Energy Act 2002[4].  SEAI is an agency under the DECC that supports the sustainable development of Ireland's ocean energy potential. The national action priorities for Ocean in Ireland are set out in the OREDP as described above. In 2020, €2.090M was spent on Ocean Energy development by SEAI and the budget for 2021 is €3M. Expenditure in 2020 was significantly less than expected due to restrictions in activities and projects as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) is being developed under the aegis of the Climate Action Plan and commits to 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The RESS has been designed within a competitive auction-based, cost effective framework and the Scheme will provide for a renewable electricity (RES-E) ambition of 70% by 2030.

The new RESS is already expected to support up to an additional 4.5 GW of renewable electricity by 2030, while ensuring citizens and communities can fully participate in the future energy transition in Ireland. The Scheme aims to deliver a broader range of objectives including:
  • Providing pathways and supports for communities to participate in renewable energy projects
  • Broadening the renewable technology mix (the diversity of technologies)
  • Increasing energy security, energy sustainability and ensuring the cost effectiveness of energy policy.
Ireland will increase the volumes and frequencies of the RESS auctions to deliver on the 70% renewable electricity target by 2030. Reaching 70% renewable electricity on the grid will be one of the world’s highest levels of renewable penetration.

The terms and conditions of the first RESS auction were published in February 2020 and final selected projects were published in September 2020. There were 82 successful projects in total (63 solar and 19 onshore wind). There were no ORE eligible to enter the first auction.

The RESS will include a range of measures to support community participation including a proposed category for community owned projects and a citizen investment scheme. There will be approximately six RESS auctions up to 2030. These auctions are expected to connect circa 13,000 GWh of renewable electricity.

Various technology-specific levers will be applied in the individual auctions to facilitate diversity of renewable technologies and also increased community participation and offshore projects. Terms and conditions will be prepared for auctions to provide a route to market for offshore wind. The second RESS auction is scheduled to commence qualification in 2021.

SEAI Prototype Development Fund
The prototype development fund (PDF) was developed by SEAI in order to provide funding specific to ocean energy developers. The programme operated from 2009 to 2019 and during this time supported over 125 projects with +€21m grant funding. Many projects supported through the programme have utilised Ireland’s suite of test facilities, particularly development of small-scale physical models in the wave basins at the National Ocean Test Facility at University College Cork and sea trials in Galway Bay. Since the PDF closed, opportunities to fund ocean energy technologies has been maintained via the SEAI Research, Development and Demonstration fund. The final projects awarded under the PDF are winding down and it is anticipated that all projects will be closed in 2021.
SEAI Research, Development Demonstration Fund
The SEAI National Energy Research Development and Demonstration (RD&D) Funding Programme invests in innovative energy RD&D projects which contributes to Ireland's transition to a clean and secure energy future. The key programme objectives include the following:
  • Accelerate the development and deployment in the Irish marketplace of competitive energy-related products, processes and systems
  • Support solutions that enable technical and other barriers to market uptake to be overcome
  • Grow Ireland's national capacity to access, develop and apply international class RD&D
  • Provide guidance and support to policy makers and public bodies through results, outcomes and learning from supported energy projects.
There are currently 12 offshore energy projects funded under the RD&D. There was no call for funding in 2020, however a call is planned in 2021.  
The Ocean Energy ERA-NET Cofund (OCEANERA-NET COFUND) project is a five-year action that secured support through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation in 2016. This programme has built on the work of OCEANERA-NET and with an increased budget and financial support from the EU Commission, the COFUND programme focuses on collaborative projects that demonstrate and validate innovative technologies for ocean energy.
The first joint call was launched in 2017 and was open to applicants from three European countries (Ireland, Spain, Sweden) and four regions (Brittany, Pays de la Loire, the Basque Country, and Scotland). Three projects, with four Irish partners, were awarded grants in the COFUND joint call. A second call was issued in 2019 and contracts for projects were awarded in 2020. Three projects with Irish partners were awarded funding under this final call. All projects commenced operation in 2020 and it is anticipated that projects will run to 2022.

Consenting processes

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is not currently used as a decision making tool. However, the Marine Coordination Group is progressing the development of MSP in Ireland, work that will continue in the short and medium term.

The 2014 EU Directive on a Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning requires Member States to put maritime spatial plans in place by March 2021 at the latest. Ireland has until 2016 to transpose this directive into Irish law. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will play a leading role in the development of a maritime spatial planning framework for Ireland.

As part of the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources (DCENR) Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP), a Strategic Environmental Assessment for Marine Renewables was also conducted in 2010.

Separately the Marine Renewables Industry Association (MRIA), the trade association for marine renewables on the island of Ireland, has previously published a White Paper on Initial Development zones (MRIA, 2010). This proposed that four initial Development Zones (IDZs) for Ocean Energy should be prioritized by the Government and that efforts to achieve the 2020 target should be focused on these zones.

Site selection is a matter for project developers in the first instance, subject to the relevant consent processes. Work has now commenced, through the OREDP, on mapping opportunity and constraints to inform future development.

The competent authorities currently involved in consenting for offshore energy projects are:

• Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) – responsible for consenting of activities/developments on the foreshore (HMW to 12 mile territorial sea limit);
• The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) – responsible for licensing construction of new generating stations and their subsequent operation.
• EirGrid and ESB – transmission and distribution operators, respectively;
• Local planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála (The Irish Planning Authority) – responsible for consenting onshore components development.

The main steps for the offshore energy project consenting are the following:

• Foreshore license/lease (managed by DECLG) – while the nature, scale and impact of these projects can vary significantly, all require foreshore consent (i) to investigate/survey the site; (ii) to construct the development (and cabling); and (iii) to occupy the property. Currently, both the development consent and property management aspects of a foreshore lease or license are addressed simultaneously by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, when determining whether it is in the public interest to grant a foreshore lease or license;
• Permission to generate and grid connection (managed by CER) – generators with an installed capacity of 1 MW or less do not need to apply to the CER for an authorization to construct or a license to generate. Grid connection is subject to a separate administrative process involving either the transmission or the distribution system operators;
• Onshore development – where a project includes onshore components, consent for development will be required from relevant local planning authorities and/or An Bord Pleanála (The Irish Planning Authority).

There is no specific authority responsible to manage the ocean energy consenting process as a whole (“one stop shop” facility or entity). However, the new Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill will align the foreshore consent system with the planning system in order to streamline the EIA and AA processes for projects.

An EIA is assessed on a case-by-case basis. In the case of a proposed development on the foreshore, DECLG formally decides as part of the foreshore consent process whether or not a project would or would not be likely to have significant effects on the environment.

DECLG undertakes a screening exercise in respect of each application to determine if an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required. Where a proposed development also requires planning consent for development onshore, the relevant planning authority (a local authority or An Bord Pleanála) as part of the planning process will decide if an EIA is required or not.

In the case of a proposed development on the foreshore, if an EIA is required the foreshore lease/license application to DECLG will have to be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in accordance with section 13A(1)(c) of the Foreshore Act, 1933.

There is no specific legislation to deal solely with ocean energy. Ocean energy developments are subject to the same legislation as any other marine development.

The Irish Government has recently published the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan which enables cross government support and collaboration for the sector and will inform ongoing review of relevant legislation.

The current Foreshore Act has been in place since 1933 and has been subject to limited updating in that time. A new Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill is expected to be enacted. The new Bill will aim to align the foreshore consent system with the planning system, to streamline the EIA process for projects and to provide a coherent mechanism to facilitate and manage development in maritime sea.

Two other policy initiatives are also of relevance. The Government of Ireland published ‘Harnessing our Ocean Wealth’ in 2012. This is an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland which has the goal of delivering a thriving maritime economy, healthy ecosystems and more engagement with the sea. As part of the implementation of this policy two specific Task Forces have been created: the Enablers Task Force, which has been working on MSP at a strategic level, and the Developers Task Force.

With respect to the OREDP, a Steering Group has been created to take forward actions identified in the plan. These actions are being delivered by three working groups with particular focus on the environment, job creation and infrastructure development.

The provisions of the Public Participation Directive were applied to consent applications under the Foreshore Acts which require the preparation of an EIS by the European Communities (Foreshore) Regulations 2009 (S.I. No. 404 of 2009) and the European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Foreshore) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 433 of 2012).

These regulations amend the Foreshore Act and apply to the consideration of foreshore consent applications subject to EIA. These regulations provide an enhanced level of public participation and information sharing on environmental matters.

There are the following guidance:

• Guidance notes for pre-application consultation and investigate licenses available on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) website.
• Guidance for Authorization to Construct and License to Generate are available on the Commission for Energy regulation website.

Usually deployment in designated test centers are already pre-consented so developers do not have to submit a full application comprising all the typical consents providing certain initial conditions are met.

The Galway Bay Test Site is currently operated as a pre-consented test site where developers may test their quarter scale devices. The lease for the Galway Bay Test Site will be reviewed in 2016.

In the case of the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site, is it anticipated that a lease will be granted to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and individual WEC developers will be required to apply for a license consenting authorities (currently DECLG) to use an area within the test site. It is intended that the SEAI will produce guidance for developers in this regard going forward.

The OES is organised under the auspices of the International Energy Agency (IEA) but is functionally and legally autonomous. Views, findings and
publications of the OES do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or its individual member countries.