World's Largest Offshore Wind Farm Approved for Irish Sea

DUBLIN, Ireland, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - Two hundred wind turbines have been approved for Ireland's east coast in a new development that will be the largest offshore wind power project in the world.

At a Foreshore Lease signing ceremony in Dublin on Friday, Irish Marine & Natural Resources Minister, Frank Fahey, gave the go-ahead for the construction and operation of the 520 megawatt wind farm in an area of the Irish Sea known as the Arklow Bank.

There are currently only 20 offshore developments worldwide, all in northern Europe. When completed, the Arklow Banks project will have three times the combined capacity of all offshore wind farms currently in production in the world.


Irish Marine & Natural Resources Minister, Frank Fahey (Photo courtesy Irish Marine Institute)
Fahey said, "Today heralds the dawning of a new age of clean green energy, harvested from two plentiful renewable resources, the sea and the wind. I am particularly pleased that this project, the most ambitious offshore wind energy development ever undertaken, is being undertaken by a dynamic Irish company who have already established a track record in renewable energy projects."

The wind farm application, which had been subject to full public consultation, had received no objections from members of the public.

Ireland is ideally suited to generating wind power as some of the strongest winds in Northern Europe blow from the north and southwest coast.

Fahey says this project will be the first of many. He hopes it "will help to establish Ireland as a world leader in this young industry and that the Arklow Banks will become a model development attracting visitors from around the world."

During clear bright weather, the development, situated some seven kilometers (4.3 miles) from the nearest onshore point, will be highly visible from Wicklow Head to Courtown Harbour and including such popular beaches as Brittas and Courtown.

On the international side, there is a strong possibility that a development of this size will bring large numbers of trade and public representatives on fact finding visits with a positive effect for tourism, the minister said. There may also be an increase in marine tourism with boat trips bringing people out to the wind farm, which will not be open to the public.

Fahey expects considerable revenue for Ireland from this development - upwards of €1.9 million ($1.7 million) each year within five years of completion.

There is a provision in the Foreshore Lease to increase the maximum output of the wind farm and vary the number of turbines subject to the minister's consent.


One of two 66 meter diameter rotors is lifted into place a kilometer off Blyth, UK where an offshore wind farm now generates power. (Photo courtesy Blyth Offshore Wind Limited)
The Arklow Banks are seven kilometers (4.3 miles) from the nearest landfall. Situated east of Arklow in the Irish Sea and running in a north-south direction for 27 kilometers (17 miles) and are up to a mile and a half wide in places. Water depths from five to 25 meters (16 to 81 feet) make them an ideal location for generating electricity.

The pollution free energy produced will be equal to an annual reduction of some 1.1 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide that would have been emitted from a coal fired generating station producing the same amount of electricity.

The development will contribute the ability of Ireland to meet its greehouse gas reduction target under Kyoto Protocol, an addition to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that was approved politically during negotiations in 2001. Ireland must reduce its emission of carbon dioxide by eight percent during the period 2008 to 2012.

Phase 1 of the project, when operational, will replace some €330 million of imported fossil fuels. The social benefit of avoided pollution is estimated at €25 million ($22.3 million).

The wind farm is to be built by eirtricity, a joint venture between Future Wind Partnership and the National Toll Roads. Future Wind Partnership was set up three years ago with its aim being to develop Ireland's wind energy resources.

"The development of major offshore wind energy parks will be the biggest energy revolution since the internal combustion engine," according to Eddie O’Connor, managing director of eirtricity and vice president of the European Wind Energy Association.

Speaking at the signing of the foreshore lease, Dr. O’Connor said, "The resource is there, the technology is proven, the costs continue to drop - all that is needed is the political will to see it happen."


Two wind turbines generating power offshore the UK (Photo courtesy Blyth Offshore Wind Ltd.)
"The Department of the Marine and Natural Resources are to be congratulated on a foreshore policy that is more advanced than our European neighbors," said Dr. O'Connor, "however, the key next step is for the government to create a business environment that encourages investment in offshore wind energy. Without support in areas such as grid connection costs and capital relief, Ireland risks losing the lead it has now established in offshore wind energy to countries such as the UK, where massive subsidies are targeted at offshore wind energy."

Eirtricity hopes to commence construction in the spring and begin power generation of 60 megawatts in autumn of this year.

The entire 520 megawatt wind development will have the capacity to meet the needs of more than 400 industrial electricity users or 500,000 homes.

The cost of the project will, at current prices, be in excess of €630 million ($563 million).

Construction of phase one will result in 360 full time equivalent jobs and 23 permanent jobs from 2002.

Fahey said an anticipated increase in marine life means, "There is a real possibility of an increase in boat angling in the area, not to mention the potential creation of a valuable new protected spawning ground for the Irish Sea."

The achievement of the targets set down in the European Union's law known as the Renewable Energy Directive will require offshore wind development all over Europe. The onshore resource is simply not there or is too expensive, Dr. O'Connor said.

He predicts that offshore wind energy alone could provide up to two thirds of Europe’s electricity needs by 2020.