Representatives of ESB, the Irish utility that is planning to develop up to 5 GW of offshore wind in Irish waters with developer Equinor, told OWJ that the IAA’s interpretation of the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement temporarily interrupted surveys earlier this year and a long-term solution has yet to be found.
Together, ESB and Equinor are progressing plans for five offshore windfarms on the east, west and southern coast of Ireland. They include Seastacks (800 MW); Loch Garman (500 MW); Helvick Head (700 MW); Celtic Offshore One (700 MW) and Celtic Offshore Two (700 MW); and Moneypoint One (400 MW) and Two (1,000 MW). Surveys for Seastacks and Helvick Head were among those affected.
ESB manager offshore wind Gary Connolly and offshore wind development manager Liam Murphy said contracts for aerial surveys for the Seastacks and Helvick Head sites were subcontracted to UK-based APEM, which is well known for its work in the European offshore wind market and further afield.
Mr Connolly said the work was initiated in November 2020 as part of the screening process for the windfarms. “The surveys were progressing well and there were no issues, but in early 2021 we were informed that the IAA had a problem with the aircraft taking off in the UK,” Mr Murphy explained. “They were no longer allowed to take off from the UK and enter Irish airspace to conduct the surveys.
“Fortunately, APEM responded quickly to address the issue and began flying the aircraft out of Denmark (which is in the EU),” Mr Murphy explained. “The problem seems to be that on leaving the EU and completing the trade agreement, the UK became a third country.”
A Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and EU (of which Ireland remains a part) was signed on 30 December 2020, was applied provisionally as of 1 January 2021 and entered into force on 1 May 2021. It sets out preferential arrangements between the UK and EU countries such as Ireland in a number of areas, but no means matches the level of integration that existed while the UK was an EU member state.
Mr Connolly said the IAA interpretation of the agreement has prevented survey flights from the UK since January 2021. “Our key concern was that we maintain project data integrity,” Mr Murphy told OWJ. “Fortunately, with APEM’s help, we were able to ensure integrity, and the surveys have been completed.
“Other developers found themselves in the same boat. There has been pressure from industry stakeholders and a temporary solution, a stop-gap measure was agreed granting three-month licences for projects, but only two temporary licences can be agreed in a 12 month period. Given the very large number of projects being planned in Irish waters, the industry will have to make alternative arrangements.”
Mr Murphy said ESB and other parties involved continue to engage with the IAA to find a long-term solution. He highlighted the fact that work needs to be undertaken now if projects are to help Ireland meet 2030 climate targets, noting that unless the impasse can be overcome soon developers would need to address it in tender documentation and, potentially, exclude UK-based companies.
Alternative arrangements have already been made in some cases, with APEM having recently opened an office in Cork. In May 2021, the first aerial surveys of Irish waters were due to be undertaken by an Irish company, following delivery of an aircraft owned by Green Rebel Group. The company has formed a partnership with Cork Airport, the Atlantic Flight Training Academy and Weston Aviation.
Green Rebel Group said it acquired the aircraft to undertake surveys as part of the planning process for marine renewable energy projects, including offshore windfarms. The €1.5M (US$1.8M) twin-engine Diamond Air DA42 aircraft is said to be the most environmentally friendly aircraft of its class. The company said that, with the acquisition of the aircraft, Green Rebel Group will be the only domestic Irish company offering digital aerial surveys for environmental assessments associated with marine renewable energy projects.
Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE.