The first phase of Northern Ireland’s offshore renewable energy leasing round has commenced, with development rights offers expected this autumn. In December 2011, The Crown Estate, which owns the region’s seabed, launched the licensing process for a single 600MW offshore wind project off the south-east coast of County Down and multiple tidal projects up to 200MW off Rathlin island and Torr Head.
For the Rathlin Island and Torr Head strategic area, applications are being sought for commercial demonstration leases up to and including 10MW and full commercial leases (over 10MW and up to 100MW). These projects are expected to reach development stage from 2016 or 2017 onwards.
Before obtaining a full lease, successful companies will need to undertake environmental impact assessments to secure the necessary marine licence and an electricity generating consent.
Areas of the north-west coast, identified for development but which are in deeper waters than those in which offshore technology currently operate, may form part of any future leasing round.
In March, Energy Minister Arlene Foster published DETI’s Offshore Renewable Energy Strategic Action Plan (ORESAP) 2012-2020, which provides for development of up to 900MW of offshore wind and 300W from tidal resources in Northern Ireland.
The draft plan was completed in 2009 and then subjected to a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), public consultation and a habitats regulations appraisal (HRA) before a final plan was published.
Launching the strategy Foster stated: “Offshore renewables represent a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland; an opportunity to contribute to our challenging renewable energy targets and build new industries to serve this growing offshore market.” She said that she was keen that all sectors “appreciate and realise the benefits that these activities can provide.”
Among the commitments contained in the strategy are:
• implementation of the SEA and HRA, including a ‘deploy and monitor’ approach to commercial scale development, to take account of possible impacts. DETI will publish a strategy in December 2012;
• a legal agreement on the marine border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland;
• streamlined administrative guidance for developers and officials on the licensing and consenting regimes during 2012-2013; and
• an offshore energy production and decommissioning regime (through the Energy Bill).
The strategy also commits to supporting offshore and marine electricity generation through incentivisation schemes. On 1 April 2013, Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) levels for wave and tidal projects will increase from 2ROCs to 5ROCs, subject to a 30MW cap (2ROCs above 30MW). There will also be a sliding scale reduction for large scale offshore wind, from 2ROCs to 1.8 ROCs in 2016-2017.
Foster has announced her intention to follow the UK Government’s plans to replace the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) system with a feed-in-tariff with contracts for difference for large-scale renewables (above 5MW). The change is part of UK Electricity Market Reform.
While Great Britain will introduce the new incentive in 2014-2015, the new scheme will come into effect in Northern Ireland in 2016-2017. The NIRO scheme will close for new generation and additional capacity in 2017, with an end date of 2037.
A new small-scale renewable electricity generation feed-in-tariff, to form part of the Energy Bill, will be introduced in 2015-2016.
Offshore renewable development: timelines
September 2012: development rights offered to successful companies.
2012-2015: consenting and licensing stages, leading, if successful, to full leases.
2015-2016 onwards: initiation of projects, leading to subsequent deployment by 2020 and beyond.