The project director of what will be the largest Irish offshore wind farm and the largest power generating plant across the island has warned it's "touch and go" for Ireland to meet its climate change renewables target by 2030.
Arno Verbeek, 52, is already a veteran of developing Irish Sea wind having been responsible 20 years ago for Ireland's first, and still only, offshore windfarm. He is now heading up the construction of a massive project called Codling off the Wicklow coast, which will play a key part in reducing carbon emissions by the 2030 deadline.
However, in an interview, Mr Verbeek warned that time was running short.
Codling Wind Park is owned by France’s EDF Renewables and Fred Olsen of Norway and the single project is by far the largest of six offshore projects that the Irish Government is relying on to meet its pledge for all types of renewables — offshore, onshore, and solar — to deliver 80% of demand by 2030.
Phase one of the plans, to 2030, require that the five Irish Sea projects running from Louth to Cork, along with an offshore farm in Galway, will deliver 5 gigwatts (GW) of power. Without offshore wind, Ireland would likely miss its 2030 climate change commitments.
Codling by itself is due to deliver the equivalent power generated by three large power stations and will be much bigger than the existing largest plant on the all-Ireland energy system, Co Clare's coal-fired Moneypoint station, which once produced under 1GW of power. It is being decommissioned and repurposed.
Mr Verbeek said his project, which plans to produce between 0.9GW and up to 1.5GW, will be double what is planned by the next largest project planned for the Irish Sea by 2030.
The other projects include the Dublin Array of Bray and Kish which is due to produce between 0.6GW to 0.9GW of power; the Arklow Bank Phase 2 project which is expected to generate 0.52GW to 0.8GW; the North Irish Sea Area, or Nisa, which is expected to deliver 0.5GW; and Oriel in Louth, which is slated to deliver between 0.37GW and 0.4GW of power.
The Sceirde project off Connemara, and the only Phase One project outside of the Irish Sea, is due to deliver 0.35GW and up to 0.45GW in power.
“It is touch and go,” for all the 2030 offshore projects to deliver the proposed 5GW power, Mr Verbeek said. EirGrid too will have "a massive" role in strengthening the east coast grid and in meeting the increased demand by 2030, which will include new data centres planned around Dublin.
The Dutch native has had decades of experience in developing offshore wind energy around the world. He is the original "Mr Offshore Ireland", having project-managed 20 years ago the first turbines on the Arklow Bank, which remains the only major offshore wind site.
“It was the first and is still the only one in Irish waters,” he told the.
The Irish Sea projects are in the scramble by the Irish Government to meet its climate change pledges even as the clock ticks down to the 2030 deadline.
Codling plans to install up to 140 turbines but, after planning delays, construction may only start in early 2025.
Mr Verbeek said that it can build a wind farm of this size in two years but the planning can take far too long. He said accelerating the pace was required and needing to spend eight years on planning and on surveys needs to be shortened.
"We just don’t have that time any more,” Mr Verbeek said. He said there was huge complexity in planning offshore wind projects, with a whole range of people, including fisheries, shipping, and even aviation to be taken into account.
Ireland is planning to set up the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, or Mara, which will play a role for projects after 2030. But Mr Verbeek is worried about how the existing agencies and government departments can cope up to 2030 with staffing and resources, because of the flood of work that is coming their way.
Codling has announced Wicklow Port as its long-term operational base to maintain and service its offshore power plant for a 30 year period. The base includes a control room, warehousing, and berthing facilities. The 75 permanent jobs at this single project hints at the hundreds of jobs that will be created from the other projects along the Irish Sea as early as 2030.
The potential for jobs is equivalent to what happened in Scotland when North Sea oil started up in the 1970s, Mr Verbeek said.
Codling is talking to Cork, Belfast, and Rosslare ports to put together the four parts of a turbine, including the seabed foundation, the tower, the generator, and the blades. Belfast is the only Irish port that currently has the full facilities to construct offshore wind farms.
The handful of turbines at the original Arklow site stands as a symbol of what Ireland could have already achieved.
His travels show that the offshore wind is rapidly becoming the new normal and will replace in quick time the famously globe-straddling oil industry for offering skilled and well-paid jobs. Ireland’s potential to catch up with other European nations in offshore wind is evident on most days of the year at the Irish coast.
“We have only eight years left to achieve the target. It is going to be an immense challenge to get there,” Mr Verbeek said.
Scotland is well ahead of Ireland in developing projects for offshore wind, he said. The Scots caught up quickly after the UK first focused on England and Wales to produce power offshore.
A single government agency is tasked with issuing the offshore permits and means that projects are “significantly de-risked” in Scotland and become attractive for developers, he said:
It means that the developers only have to compete in an auction where the lowest price wins and they can “almost start constructing straight away”, he said.
Scotland’s plans dwarf the 5GW of power that Ireland seeks to generate from offshore wind by 2030. Scotland’s ambitions are impressive but the numbers, while showing the potential for Ireland, also starkly demonstrate the huge challenges for Ireland to make up for lost time.
Scotland has almost 1GW of power operating from offshore turbines and has sanctioned almost 5GW in approved projects, with a further 4.4GW of power from offshore wind in the development pipeline.
And Scotland also has put down a huge marker for its ambitions by commissioning 10GW of more power in its latest leasing round.
The challenges and the opportunities for Ireland are clear, said Mr Verbeek.