Anchoring the Future: How Ports Play a Crucial Role in Powering Ireland’s Offshore Wind Energy

"Ireland's Coastal Communities Poised for Economic Boost with Offshore Wind Farms"

Irish Ports and Harbours: A Vital Component for Offshore Wind Farms

The existing network of ports and harbours in Ireland presents a real economic opportunity for some of Ireland’s coastal communities. In offshore renewable energy, ports and harbours generally fall into two categories.

The first are what we often call a staging port which is a large port used to construct an offshore wind farm. The foundations and turbines are generally delivered there, some assembly work is carried out, and then they are moved from the port to the wind farm where they are installed by large specialist vessels.

The second are what we call an operations & maintenance base. This is typically smaller than a staging port and located close to the offshore wind farm. Once the wind farm is up and running, it needs to be monitored and maintained. This means a team of engineers, turbine technicians, and administrative staff along with seafaring crew and maintenance teams for the Crew Transfer Vessels (CTVs) used to carry technicians out to the turbines.

Unlike a staging port, which is only used when the wind farm is being built, an O&M base needs to operate for the lifetime of the wind farm. Two harbours — Wicklow and Arklow — have already been identified as the homes for the operations and maintenance bases for two proposed wind farms, Codling Bank and Arklow Bank, if the wind farms are built.

Depending on the size of the wind farm, an O&M base generally means between 80-100 full-time jobs along with significant investment in the harbour and the surrounding town and opportunities for local businesses. We have seen in Scotland how coastal towns have been transformed for the better after being chosen as a base for an offshore wind farm.

Each proposed wind farm will need its own operational and maintenance base, so there will be plenty of opportunities for harbours right around Ireland.

The question now is, will Irish ports be used to build offshore wind farms? That is a tougher question to answer. We want to build Irish offshore wind farms in Irish ports. “Our members — including both ports and developers — are absolutely united on this,” says Justin Moran of Wind Energy Ireland. “That is the best way to create jobs at home and to deliver offshore wind energy at the lowest possible price. But the Irish Government needs to want this as well.”

Right now, there is only a single port on the island — Belfast Harbour — which has the infrastructure needed to build an offshore wind farm. While Belfast is an outstanding facility, we cannot simultaneously build all of the offshore wind farms that we need from a single location. It is also possible that Belfast could be used by British wind farms on the other side of the Irish Sea, which would increase demand for its services.

This is why Wind Energy Ireland, along with others, is campaigning for the Irish Government to do more to support our ports to get ready for offshore wind energy. Ports like Rosslare, Cork Dockyard, Port of Cork, and Shannon-Foynes have great plans to develop their facilities to enable them to build offshore wind farms, but they could do with some help.

No one is looking for a blank cheque from Government, but whether it is through the Strategic Investment Fund, EU funding, or from the State, the reality is that financial support for ports is needed to give confidence to investors that Ireland is serious about developing the infrastructure we need to build offshore wind energy.

What happens if there are no ports in Ireland ready to build offshore wind farms? In that case, there are two possibilities. The first is that the wind farms would have to wait until Belfast Harbour was available to be used. This could take some time depending on the demand for Belfast’s services.

The other is that we would have to build Irish wind farms from ports outside of Ireland. We know British, French, and even Dutch ports are interested in the Irish offshore wind market.

Without more ports, we will either completely miss our climate action targets, or these wind farms will be built from other places, losing an incredible economic opportunity. Instead of growing jobs in Wexford, Cork, and Limerick, our wind farms would be creating employment in Great Britain and France.

This is why it is so important for offshore wind energy projects, ports, and our marine industry to work together to ensure, as much as possible, that the economic benefits of building and operating Irish offshore wind farms stay in Ireland.

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