knowledge | 26 May 2020 |

Offshore Wind – Government Announces “Relevant Project” Designation for Seven Offshore Renewable Energy Projects

On 19 May 2020, the government issued a press release categorising more than 3.5GW of proposed offshore wind as “Relevant Projects”. In this briefing our energy group considers the background to this designation and what it signifies for these projects and the offshore wind sector.

Our maritime area is seven times the landmass of Ireland, over 490,000 square kilometres of some of the most productive resources in the world. The potential for activity in the Atlantic Ocean, and Celtic and Irish Seas is immense. This recognition, coupled with the Government’s ambition to increase the electricity generated from renewable sources to 70% by 2030, has led to a recent decision to categorise seven offshore wind projects as “Relevant Projects” that will secure special status under the proposed Marine Planning and Development Management (“MPDM”) Bill.

What is the background to the designation as relevant projects?

The General Scheme of the MPDM Bill has been approved by the Government. On 24 January 2020 the Government published answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” explaining how the new regulatory system will work.  The MPDM Bill will establish a new, but familiar, regime for the maritime area. For offshore wind projects, it will have three independent sequential elements: grant of planning interest by the relevant Minister, grant of planning permission by An Bord Pleanála and grant of Maritime Area Consent (“MAC”) to offshore renewable energy projects by the Minister Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.

To facilitate the development of offshore projects that had been significantly progressed under the existing regime, Chapter 3 of the scheme for the MPDM Bill provides transitional measures. These are further explained at Appendix 4 of the Frequently Asked Questions document (Proposed Transition Protocol for relevant offshore wind projects) which applies solely to Relevant Projects. These are defined as:

 (a) offshore wind projects which applied for (and substantially advanced) or were granted a lease under the Foreshore Act 1933, as amended (the Foreshore Act) in respect of which material changes are proposed to that which was originally applied for and assessed under the Foreshore Acts, which changes require further assessment; and/or

 (b) offshore wind projects which have a valid connection agreement from the Transmission System Operator (“TSO”) or are confirmed by the TSO as eligible to be processed to receive a valid connection offer.

The press release confirms that the proposed MPDM Bill will grant to Relevant Projects a “planning interest”. By this method, they will complete the first of the three new steps under the MPDM Bill.

These Relevant Projects will also secure the benefit of the direction made by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities to EirGrid, requiring EirGrid to commence processing applications for grid connection, separately from the formal Enduring Connection Policy process. (The CRU Direction is accessible here.) The press release identifies other benefits, relating to environmental scoping, site investigation, survey and application preparation work.

Which projects have been designated as relevant projects?

The approved Relevant Projects are at Oriel Wind Park; Bray and Kish Banks; Codling Wind Park I and II; Skerd Rocks; and North Irish Sea Array.

What does this signify for the offshore wind sector?

The announcement is one in a series of recent actions taken to progress offshore wind development in the Atlantic Ocean, and Celtic and Irish Seas; and fulfil the governmental pledge to develop at least 3.5GW of offshore wind by 2030 (see our briefing here). It follows the publication of the general scheme for the MPDM Bill in 2019; the conclusion of the public consultation on Ireland’s Draft National Marine Planning Framework in February 2020 and the launch of the first competition under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme 2020 in March 2020 (see our briefing here). It will also support EirGrid processing grid applications received from these seven projects1.Until the MPDM Bill is enacted the full benefits accompanying a Relevant Project designation will remain unsettled, but the move clearly signifies a continuing governmental drive to progress offshore wind development to meet climate action goals that will surely encourage, and be relied upon to prompt, further investment in this important sector.

Should you have any queries on the consent processes proposed by the MPDM Bill or the Relevant Project designations please contact any member of the McCann FitzGerald Energy/Environment and Planning team.

  1. On 3 February 2020, the CRU issued a Direction to EirGrid to begin processing grid applications from projects categorised as “Relevant Projects”. The CRU Direction is accessible here.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.

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