Government opens consultation on Maritime Area Consent for ORE

On 19 January, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD launched a consultation on important aspects of the new Maritime Area Consent (MAC) State consent regime for offshore renewable energy (ORE).

This follows the publication of the full text of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Act 2021 in August last year, which seeks to establish a development management regime from the high-water mark to the outer limit of Ireland’s continental shelf. The new system will incorporate consent for the occupation of the maritime area, through MACs and licencing, and establish a new agency, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA), to manage the occupation of the maritime area and to enforce the provisions of the regime.

The MAP Act is expected to help deliver the government’s climate targets outlined under the Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2021, including an increase to the proportion of renewable electricity to up to 80% by 2030 and an increased target to achieve up to 5GW of installed offshore wind generation by 2030. The government states that the 5GW target will be primarily met through development of offshore renewable energy (ORE) in Ireland’s eastern and southern coastal regions.

To facilitate this, one of the main features of the MAP Act is the creation of the MAC as a first step in the new planning process. Under the special transition provisions in the act, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications will have the responsibility for assessing and granting MACs for a first phase of offshore projects, which satisfy the definition of “relevant maritime usage” under the act, after which the then-established MARA will be responsible for granting MACs.

The purpose of this consultation is to:

  • Set out the proposed approach to MAC assessment for Relevant Projects.
  • Provide important information on various aspects of the new MAC regime for Relevant Projects.
  • Invite feedback from interested stakeholders on the proposed approach to the assessment of Phase One MAC applications.

In establishing an approach to MAC assessment, the consultation states it is proposed that the applicant will be required to provide high-level information on the nature of the project and how it aligns with policy, but not project specific details. It is indicated that this could require applicants to submit information including a short statement outlining how the project helps meet 2030 climate targets, including consistency with targets set out in CAP 2021, the National Marine Planning Framework, or other national ORE policies. Other required information may consist of expected Maximum Export Capacity (MEC) of the final development and maximum energy output, expressed in GWh/annum, indicative timelines, including proposed start and duration of project energisation, and the proposed wind turbine technology.

The consultation also proposes that any developers seeking a MAC application will have to provide information on the geographic boundaries of a proposed project. This is likely to include geographic coordinates of the area under application, the proposed coordinates of the transmission cable route, a statement that the coordinates of the MAC application are within the coordinates of the original Foreshore Lease application, and the total size in kilometres squared of the MAC area under consideration, including any cable routes.

It is highlighted that in undertaking its financial assessment of a MAC application, the Relevant Authority will have the right to request further information in any of the financial assessment areas and undertake a more detailed review of the Relevant Person’s financial viability. The consultation states that the outcome of the financial assessment will be considered together with other factors taken into consideration by the Relevant Authority in respect of an application for a MAC and conditions that may be attached to a MAC under the Act.

For each of the above criteria proposed for a MAC application, the consultation is seeking feedback on whether they are appropriate and if stakeholders have any further suggestions for suitable criteria.

Cathal Ryan, Consultant at Cornwall Insight, commented “Marine area consenting in Ireland has been slow and this consultation needs careful consideration to change the process. With the relevant projects chomping at the bit to proceed with environmental impact assessment this should be clarified throughout the consultation and decision process. Provided it is done in a timely manner, this is a welcome step, however, the establishment of the MARA in tandem with assessing the relevant projects needs to be resourced adequately.”

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