Tuesday 13th April 2021
Good morning everyone – I am delighted to be here with you today, and I would like to thank Wind Energy Ireland for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at this important Conference.
Today, I would like to use this opportunity to update you about the work going on in my Department to facilitate the development of Offshore Wind in Ireland, as well as update you on a couple of other areas of interest to you such as the development of onshore Wind Energy Development Guidelines, Marine Protected Areas and the establishment of a new Maritime regulatory agency.
From the outset, I am delighted to see the strong interest from developers in seeking to advance offshore wind projects in the new Irish maritime area which will, from Government’s perspective, help to achieve the aim of decarbonising energy production whilst generating new, quality jobs across the country. As you are aware, the current Foreshore regulatory regime under the 1933 Act is challenging on administrative, legal and technical grounds. The application processes for development and State property consent, as well as various issues arising from the lease and licensing processes, and the management of some 2,200 existing leases and licences involve a range of complex legal, financial and technical matters for consideration. Of course, our primary intervention to address these challenges is the development of new legislation in the form of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Bill – formerly titled the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill – which will overhaul the planning and development system in the maritime area but I want to remain on the challenges relating to the Foreshore system and will return to the MAP Bill shortly.
The significant increase in demand for renewable energy and commitment to meet Ireland’s targets for reducing carbon emissions and renewable energy in line with commitments under the Climate Action Plan and Programme for Government has led to a significant increase in related foreshore consenting activity.
Over the last two years, my Department has received in excess of 50 site investigation applications relating to offshore wind farm activity; with 24 having been received since September 2020 alone. This significant increase in applications in the ORE space has coincided with a similar increase in demand for consenting decisions on applications relating to ports and harbours; strategic infrastructure projects like water and waste water infrastructure, local authorities’ infrastructural works such as bridges, marinas, coastal protection works, flood relief works, as well as strategically important telecommunications and interconnector projects.
I am pleased to say that excellent progress has been made in assessing those applications linked to Relevant Projects associated with the Transition Protocol, as well as the ORE test sites. The significant extra resources that my Department has invested in this area over the last number of months, despite the challenges of recruitment that has arisen over the last 12 months, now means that those site investigation applications that are on hand are now being progressed. This in turn, means that the prioritisation framework which had to be put in place during 2020 can effectively be put aside, save for the necessary prioritisation of applications associated with Relevant Projects and test sites. Applications will now be processed on a chronological basis, with a degree of flexibility provided to cater for situations, for example, where a developer has several applications lodged and wishes to progress one ahead of the other for commercial or other reasons.
However, the Foreshore consenting process and the demands of the related and constantly evolving planning and environmental case law remain complex. The range of stakeholders and public interests to consider and consult dictate aspects of the timing and pace of the various processes. I am confident that my Department is focused on providing industry, applicants and the Public with as much clarity and certainty as is possible with regard to the timing of those process. In addition, a very strong working relationship exists between officials in my own Department and in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, and my Department will continue to be guided in this area by policy developments relating to the wider offshore renewable energy ambition.
Moving to the subject of onshore wind, many of you are aware that my Department, alongside the Department of the Environment, in the context of that Department’s remit in relation to wind energy, is currently undertaking a focused review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines.
In line with the “preferred draft approach”, the review is addressing a number of key aspects of the Guidelines including sound or noise, visual amenity setback, shadow flicker, consultation obligations, community dividend and grid connections.
The review aims to strike a better balance between addressing the concerns of local communities, whilst maintaining Ireland’s ability to deliver on its binding energy policy obligations, by ensuring that there is greater, and earlier, community engagement by wind farm developers.
The revised Guidelines are intended to be forward looking, and will apply to planning applications and considerations for future wind energy development proposals, including the renewal and repowering of existing wind energy development consents.
They will provide greater consistency of approach in planning for wind energy development onshore and will provide certainty and clarity to the planning system, to the wind industry and to local communities.
My Department and the Department of the Environment, have analysed the submissions received from the 2020 public consultation on the draft revised Wind Guidelines, in conjunction with the contracted SEA and noise consultants. We are in the process of preparing finalised guidelines for publication having undertaken detailed consideration and analysis of the submissions received, many of which are quite detailed and technical in nature. In the meantime, the current 2006 Guidelines remain in force.
In light of the on-going deliberative process on the review of the Guidelines, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on the Review at this time, but I hope this update has informed you as to where we are with the process.
Moving back offshore, as you are aware, my Department has been working solidly on the National Marine Planning Framework for over three years now, and I am pleased to say that we are reaching the culmination of this work.
The NMPF is the long-term forward planning component of the new marine planning system, which will be game changing in how we manage and plan our extensive Maritime Area. When it is established in the coming weeks, we will have a statutory spatial plan for all of our land and sea areas, leading to better planning and governance of all of our territory.
Of course, we realise that in terms of forward planning, this framework is just the beginning – a structure from which to work towards more in-depth guidelines for all marine users and stakeholders and for the development of more localised marine spatial plans.
It will stand as a parallel to the National Planning Framework, providing a long-term structural basis for the effective management of marine activities and more sustainable use of our marine resources.
In the context of ORE, it will clarify Government objectives and priorities - and it will aid and serve as a hand rail for both decision makers and developers and from Government’s perspective allow us to adopt a more strategic, plan-led and efficient use of marine resources.
The NMPF has been prepared primarily with industry, the environment and the public in mind, and I am pleased to say that my Department has received very positive feedback on how it has handled the public consultation process. A cross-sectoral external Advisory Group, which I chaired and some of you participated in, has also informed the NMPF.
Consultations with representatives from ORE companies, your feedback and participation, has been key in the preparation of the plan – and I would like to thank all of you here who were involved in any part of the groundwork on the NMPF.
I am very pleased to tell you that on Tuesday 23rd March, Cabinet approved the final text and directed the NMPF to be laid before the Oireachtas and to formally bring it to both houses of the Oireachtas for approval.
Officials from my Department appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee last week and I expect a vote to be held shortly in both Houses. This will allow myself and Minister O’Brien to declare the Framework formally established. Policy makers and decision makers will from that point be legally bound to meet the objectives of the NMPF.
Moving onto legislation, we are now on a determined and irreversible journey away from fossil fuels towards renewables and my colleague Minister Ryan will talk more on this tomorrow.
As part of the decarbonisation Programme, Government has set very ambitious targets for deployment of offshore wind. The Maritime Area Planning Bill is a key enabler of Ireland’s decarbonisation goals and as such, Government is committed to prioritising the passage of a balanced and Aarhus-compliant MAP Bill through the Oireachtas.
The MAP Bill is also the State’s leading response to the much needed reform of marine governance. The Bill provides the legal underpinning to an entirely new marine planning system, which will balance harnessing our huge offshore wind potential with protecting our rich and unique marine environment.
The Bill will provide for a completely new State consent regime for the entire maritime area. Replacing foreshore consenting, it will integrate development consenting into the planning permission system and it will promote robust compliance and enforcement.
The NMPF does not set out zones for particular marine use. The MAP Bill does however set out detailed forward planning procedures, including spatial designations, for specified areas and uses called Designated Marine Area Plans (DMAP). The DMAP process will be sufficiently flexible to provide for the development of regional, local and sectoral marine plans.
The process of developing a DMAP will feature extensive consultation – within and between Government departments, the public and with stakeholders such as yourselves.
Collectively, all of these new measures represent a major complementary suite of reforms for our marine planning system; they deliver a huge change in how we manage and develop our maritime area and they set out a clear long-term vision for how Ireland wants to use, protect and enjoy our precious seas.
The Bill went through Pre legislative scrutiny in November and the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee was received in February. In all there were 29 recommendations made by the Committee and my officials have sought to reflect these into the drafting of the Bill, where feasible. Legal drafting is ongoing but the end is in sight and I expect to publish the Bill in coming weeks.
As part of the reform programme, I am also very pleased to have the opportunity today to announce that the MAP Bill will also establish a new agency to regulate development in the Maritime Area, which is to be called the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, or MARA for short.
Originally MARA was to be established as an enforcement agency and while that is still the case, following cross-Government discussions and taking into account recommendations from the Joint Oireachtas Committee as well as legal advice, Minister O’Brien, Minister Ryan and I have decided that the functions of MARA will be enhanced to take on the role of assessing and granting all Maritime Area Consents as well as licensing a number of activities in the Maritime Area. To be clear, it is now our intention that MARA will take on the consent roles that the General Scheme of the Bill had originally intended to be carried out by both relevant Ministers. Minister Ryan will be responsible for assessing and granting MACs for the Relevant Projects but after this, that role will be taken on by MARA. An Bord Pleanála and relevant coastal Local Authorities will still serve as the planning authorities for projects requiring planning permission.
MARA will therefore have four key roles:
- Granting of all Maritime Area Consents for the maritime area,
- Granting Maritime licences for specific scheduled activities, including environmental surveys.
- Ensuring robust compliance and enforcement measures,
- Managing the existing State Foreshore portfolio of leases and licences.
The Maritime Area Planning Bill, once enacted will lay the foundations for a modern, efficient and Aarhus compliant marine planning system. Through the establishment of MARA, we will have a well-resourced, modern, professional agency focused solely on regulation in the maritime area.
I want to also briefly mention Marine Protected Areas, which will play an important part in national action on climate, the environment and biodiversity. An independent advisory group for MPA’s was established by the Department and a public consultation on their Report is ongoing until the end of July. The relationship between offshore renewable energy and MPAs will be an ongoing one and must be one based on coexistence, and it is important that we hear your voice in that conversation. I would therefore, encourage all of you to engage with the consultation, which can be found on the Gov.ie website.
The Planning brief I have is a busy one and is wide ranging in its remit and I hope that I have provided you with something of a whistle stop tour of some of the important work going on in my Department relating to onshore and offshore renewable energy.
Over the last two decades the State has facilitated the development of onshore wind through a system based on proper planning and sustainable development. This has supported your ambition as developers and has led to the huge success of onshore wind in this State, making Ireland a world leader in this regard.
Government now has a real focus on the facilitation of offshore renewable energy. I expect 2021 to be a year we look back on as being the key year of this decade in terms of the culmination of work that will significantly enable our climate ambitions and in which you will play a key role. With the National Marine Planning Framework, the Maritime Area Planning Bill, the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill and the Climate Action Bill as well as the establishment of MARA all in train and arriving shortly I believe we will have the legislative, administrative and governance arrangements in place to support the dawn of a new era of renewable energy in Ireland.
I know that some of you will have questions about items I have mentioned this morning and with this in mind officials from my Department and Minister Ryan’s Department, will be participating in a Meet the Expert session tomorrow.
I want to thank you for coming along today and for listening to this update on the exciting projects my Department is leading.