2019 was a significant year for the Irish offshore wind sector. Growing 'developer led' momentum was strongly reinforced by Government policy which has set the clear ambition to deploy at least 3.5GW of offshore wind projects by 2030.

This momentum has carried into 2020 with a number of key Government publications in relation to Relevant Projects, and on the forthcoming recasting of the Irish marine consenting system. With this, and other developments, a clearer picure of the sector is starting to appear.

We have set out below some of the key achievements in 2019 and so far in 2020 and the key deliverables for 2020.

What were the key developments in 2019 and so far in 2020?

Climate Action Plan Delivered

The Government's Climate Action Plan was published in July 2019. It underpins Government policy in relation to offshore wind with the ambition to see at least 3.5GW of offshore wind projects constructed by 2030.

Transitional Protocol for 'Relevant Projects' Published

In January 2020, the Government published its Transitional Protocol for 'Relevant Projects' (largely capturing projects with an existing foreshore lease or a substantially advanced lease application).

Relevant Projects are considered to be the most advanced (including in terms of project design and environmental assessment) and therefore most likely first to be constructed. Under the Transitional Protocol it is proposed that Relevant Projects will be given a 'Planning Interest' a key 'gating item' under the new consenting regime and therefore likely to be first in line to apply for the new form planning permission under that regime. This should offer those projects greater certainty now to facilitate necessary 'critical path' environmental assessments, site investigations and surveys, pending the enactment of the MPDM (see below).

Significant international investment in Irish ORE sector

2019 also saw a number of notable transactions involving Irish projects, as well as Irish developers and investors taking positions in offshore wind projects in other jurisdictions, particularly the UK.

Revised Marine Consenting System Progressing

There was further progress on the development of a new holistic marine planning system, with the publication of a Heads of Bill of the Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) legislation. The latest revision of the Heads of Bill for MPDM was published in January 2020, following its submission to Cabinet.

First RESS auction scheduled in 2020

Ireland's new renewable electricity support scheme (RESS) is scheduled to commence in 2020. Whilst no offshore wind projects will be able to satisfy the entry criteria for the RESS 1 auction, it is very helpful for ORE developers to have an early understanding of the RESS design. Government policy points towards an offshore wind specific auction in 2021, assuming sufficient competition in the auction.

What's important to deliver in 2020?

Whilst there will be an election in February which may result in a change in the Irish Government, there is a lot of cross-party support for climate action initiatives. So, we do not expect material changes to the policy for ORE as set out in the Climate Action Plan. Undoubtedly 2020 is a key year to lay the platform for delivery of that policy objective. The key deliverables are:

Revised Marine Consenting System – With sufficient political impetus, this is deliverable in 2020. It is realistic to believe that this new regime could be "open for business" in late 2020 or early 2021. Specialist additional resourcing for the national Planning Board (An Bord Pleanála) will need to be prioritised to deal with applications.

Offshore Grid Policythis is expected early 2020. Expected to result in grid connection capacity being made available for certain offshore wind projects. Enduring grid connection policy for ORE projects continues to be developed by the CRU and system operators.

RESS First RESS auctions scheduled for mid-2020. Whilst no ORE projects are expected to participate in RESS 1, this will establish the price support scheme and route to market that will be critical to future ORE projects.