The largest wind energy project in Ireland is being proposed off the Cork coast

The largest wind energy project in Ireland is being proposed off the Cork coast
An offshore windfarm in the UK. The proposal for a windfarm off the Cork and Waterford coast would be one of the world's largest if developed. Pic: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

An energy company has plans to develop the largest wind energy project in Ireland off the Cork coast.

DP Energy Ireland (DPEI) now intends to undertake a site investigation to assess the proposed Inis Ealga site and associated seabed.

The proposed offshore floating wind farm area will be a minimum of 9.9km from shore and will have a potential output of 720 MW when fully up and running. That’s over 75% more than Galway Wind Farm which currently has the largest output in Ireland of 169 MW.

Map of proposed Inis Ealga Marine Energy Park. Pic: DP Energy Ireland.
Map of proposed Inis Ealga Marine Energy Park. Pic: DP Energy Ireland.

There is currently only one offshore wind energy project operational in Ireland - The Arklow Bank Wind Farm with 25 MW capacity.

There are four sites making up Inis Ealga - the smallest of which is 48.7 square kilometres, with the largest area 354 square kilometres.

Prior to the project moving forward, DPEI has applied for an Investigative Foreshore Licence for Offshore Renewable Energy. If granted, it will see a multitude of surveys undertaken including: geotechnical, geophysical, archaeological, bird, mammal, and wind in the area.

The results of these surveys will be used to select optimal cable routes, landfall options, wind farm layout and provide baseline data for environmental impact assessments. Survey will be carried out within a five year period between April and October, following the award of the foreshore license.

The application area is located approximately 16.8km from the Ballycotton Gas Field, and 1.5km from the Helvick field. There are also 59 shipwrecks located within the application area.

The closest location to shore is site B, which is 10 km from Power Head. Site A is 14.7km from the shore at its nearest point - Knockadoon Head. Inis Ealga C and D are both closest to Ballycotton with site C 24.5km from shore, and D the furthest at 36.9km.

At this stage, the regulatory framework only facilitates the development of sites within territorial waters. That means within 12 nautical miles or 22km from the coast.

With two of the proposed Inis Ealga sites further than that, DPEI say that they will be able to undertake the projects following a number of legislative changes that are already in the pipeline.

Prior to applying for the Foreshore application, DPEI conducted a constraints assessment for potential floating wind and wave sites around the south and west coast of Ireland.

The assessment considered: proximity to grid connection; water depth; wind speed; protected areas; fisheries; seabed substrate; archaeology & shipwrecks; pipelines; cables; existing and planned developments; shipping and navigation, port facilities and waste disposal sites.

This assessment identified two potential sites off the south coast, one of these is the Inis Ealga site.

Three cable routes have been identified, with 38 potential landfall sites 26 of which are from Ballycotton Bay to Roberts Cove beach.

Coastal topography is varied at these sites with many areas of steep ground and cliffs, but the application states that there are options that appear suitable for either trench and bury or horizontal directional drilling.

It is unknown at this stage if the landfall options within Cork Harbour will be viable as there may be restrictions with subsea cable laying in this area.

The National Offshore Wind Energy Association of Ireland (NOW Ireland) says that Ireland must use 1,000 MW of offshore wind by 2020 to comply with our 40% EU renewable electricity target.

Meanwhile, they say that Ireland has the resources to be a world leader in offshore wind and renewable energy in general.

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