SSE tells Oireachtas that offshore wind can power the future

SSE Ireland has set out its vision of the opportunity that offshore wind energy presents to meet Ireland’s 2020 renewable energy targets, saying the technology is an efficient and realistic way to take the big strides Ireland needs to hit its targets and avoid EU fines for failing to do so.

Stephen Wheeler, Managing Director of SSE Ireland, appeared yesterday morning before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to speak about the efforts required to meet Ireland’s targets under the 2020 Climate and Energy Package.

Addressing the committee Stephen Wheeler said Ireland right now has a window of opportunity to transform the way in which we generate power, and to do so in a way that reaffirms Ireland’s commitment to EU targets and accelerates the deployment of new and diverse energy technology. From a cost perspective, following several years of innovation and de-risking, Stephen added that offshore wind is now a scalable, proven and maturing technology which offers considerable benefits to consumers and society. 

“We believe that offshore wind can play a key part in bridging the gap to Ireland’s 2020 targets and beyond.  Onshore technologies have served us extremely well to date, but we must be realistic that social acceptance to onshore energy developments is challenging, and greater grid and planning constraints are now in place. What has been successful for us in the past, does not guarantee future success,” Stephen Wheeler told the Committee.

“If we are to make up ground on 2020 and beyond – and we believe we can – then we need to fast-forward the build-out of large-scale renewable energy capacity. Offshore wind energy can deliver large volumes of renewable electricity in the short term and also set us on the right trajectory for more ambitious 2030 targets.

“For our part at SSE, we’re actively progressing plans to fully develop our Arklow Bank Wind Park project. It would represent an investment of over €1bn and deliver a minimum of 520MW of capacity.  Most importantly, our project can be delivered in a timescale from construction through to commercial operation that will qualify towards Ireland’s 2020 targets – offsetting and potentially eliminating any fines.”

Stephen warned however that delivering in this timescale will only be achieved if the right market conditions are in place for the energy industry to respond.

“As this committee knows, the Department [of Communications, Climate Action and Environment] has consulted recently on the design of a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. In our response, SSE called for the inclusion of offshore wind as a separate category in the first of the new Support Scheme Auctions. The technology-neutral approach proposed will not give offshore wind projects investment clarity in the timeframe that we need, or enable a local supply chain to develop.  We fear that it will result in an over-reliance on onshore technology, and we have doubts that a sufficient quantity of that technology can be delivered in the timeframe required,” Stephen said.  

As well as being the largest renewable energy developer and generator in Ireland, SSE is also a leading developer and operator of offshore wind energy. The company is involved in over 8,000MW of offshore wind projects in waters around Great Britain, around 900MWs of which are already generating, providing energy to customers and contributing to the achievement of the UK’s 2020 targets. 

Closer to home in Irish waters, SSE co-developed Ireland’s first and only operational offshore wind farm in 2004 – the 7-turbine, 25MW Arklow Bank Phase 1 – which was delivered at the time with GE Energy as a ‘demonstrator project’ to prove the opportunity that offshore wind energy could represent for Ireland.

You can read the full transcript of Stephen Wheeler’s address here.