Legal & Regulatory

Overcoming Hurdles in Offshore Wind Development: Ireland in a Race Against Time

As the world intensifies its efforts to combat climate change, Ireland has set ambitious goals to produce offshore renewable energy as part of its Climate Action Plan. A member of the European Union (EU), Ireland is committed to EU reforms aimed at reducing the share of fossil fuels in the energy system and cutting emissions. Despite progress, there is a pressing need to accelerate this transition.

On Feb. 9, EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson addressed the “Powering the Future” Energy Forum in Ireland. International law firm Clark Hill had the pleasure of chairing one of the keynote sessions at the forum. The EU is committed to deploying more renewables and improving energy efficiency. In 2022, the EU presented the REPowerEU Plan in response to the dependence on Russian fossil fuels and as a strategy to fast forward the green transition.


According to EU Commissioner Simson, the REPowerEU Plan has played a pivotal role in diversifying the EU’s energy supply, reducing dependence on Russian gas, and increasing the share of wind and solar energy, which surpassed natural gas and coal in 2022.

Ireland, too, has made significant strides, with wind farms supplying a record 35% of electricity last year, preventing more than 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. However, the country faces challenges in meeting its 2030 climate targets, as highlighted by the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By 2030, Ireland has a target of at least 5 GW of installed offshore wind capacity. Achieving these targets will require almost tripling total wind capacity, relative to 2022 levels.

Aidan Eames

Accelerating planning decisions and appeals will be key to progressing against these targets at the necessary pace. In December 2023, Ireland signed onto a European Wind Charter, which seeks to develop and improve the conditions necessary for the delivery of wind energy targets. The charter, which considers both onshore and offshore wind, focuses on a range of areas, including National Energy and Climate Plans, wind auctions, governance, regulation, and equipment manufacturing. The newly established Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) has been charged with delivering a more streamlined consenting system for the maritime area, to accelerate the delivery of offshore wind sites by the Irish government. The urgency to transition to renewable energy is paramount, and delays could jeopardize both national and EU commitments.

Despite the Irish government’s ambitious targets, the complex consenting and judicial review system, along with other potential legal and regulatory bottlenecks in Ireland, threaten to add several extra years to the construction of offshore wind farms that are set to be installed in the Irish sea. A recent report by Clark Hill underscores the obstacles to Ireland’s goal of achieving 5 GW of offshore wind production by 2030. The “Offshore Renewable Energy Projects in Ireland Overview Report” emphasizes the threat of significant delays without immediate state intervention and investment.

Legal appeals, judicial reviews, planning consent delays, and concerns over capital investment pose formidable challenges. The complexity of Ireland’s consenting and judicial review system is a major hurdle. Clark Hill’s report emphasizes the prevalence of legal challenges and the need for a single state agency with comprehensive authority to streamline decision-making processes. Coordination among various agencies is crucial to avoid duplication of efforts and conflicts.

Resource constraints in key state consenting agencies and government departments further exacerbate delays. The report points out the dearth of expertise and under-resourcing in agencies like An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s national independent planning body, and the MARA, creating bottlenecks in the consenting process.

Port infrastructure readiness is another crucial aspect. While momentum exists to ready Tier 1 Irish ports, delays in planning consent and potential judicial reviews may force projects to seek alternatives beyond Ireland’s borders. The “Offshore Renewable Energy Projects in Ireland Overview Report” advises meticulous planning and presentation of applications to reduce setbacks caused by legal challenges.

The Irish planning systems continue to be a major hurdle to renewable energy development and a critical area for improvement. The length of and uncertainty in decision timelines, combined with prevalence of judicial reviews, adds project risk and can deter possible developments or investments.

The Clark Hill report also points to the significant increase in judicial review cases in recent years. Legislative vulnerabilities and resource shortfalls further highlight this issue, making it essential to address the gaps in legislation and ensure adequate resources are allocated to the agencies involved.

Industry leaders in Ireland have repeatedly called for increased resourcing of the planning system, increased use of private sector expertise, and improvements in planning processes to address commonly encountered bottlenecks. There is also a need to marry the national policy with the development plans of each local authority area in Ireland.

Ireland’s pursuit of renewable energy targets is vital for global climate efforts. Overcoming hurdles in offshore wind development requires immediate action. Empowering a single agency, addressing resource constraints, and expediting infrastructure readiness can pave the way for a green energy revolution in Ireland.

Aidan Eames is a lawyer with the international law firm Clark Hill LLP, based in Dublin, Ireland. He advises clients on environmental matters and in regulatory, planning, contract structuring, and disputes.

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