The government plans to reform the planning process in order to fast track energy-related developments worth €16 billion.
The reform of foreshore planning will speed up offshore renewable energy projects and connections to the electricity grid using the current oil and gas licensing process.
The move comes after the government’s plan for economic recovery, which was launched last week, highlighted the future importance of renewable energy. The changes to the planning process have been drafted into a bill by the Oireachtas joint committee on climate change and energy security, which has been sent to Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. It envisages bringing offshore renewable energy projects within the scope of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act, 2006.This should ensure that planning decisions on offshore renewable energy projects are made within a year. It is the first time that an Oireachtas committee has drafted a bill to be forwarded to the government. Under its terms, the Marine Institute would be given new roles and responsibilities, such as the preparation of strategic area assessments for designated areas and the power to grant leases for offshore renewable energy projects.
It would also handle the allocation of designated areas for energy production, modelled on the current auction rules for petroleum development and exploitation. It would also act as a statutory adviser to An Bord Pleanala for planning applications from approved leases.
A spokeswoman for Ryan confirmed there would be a ’‘complete reform’’ of the planning process for offshore projects, and said that facilitating connections to the electricity grid from the foreshore would be a priority. ’‘The oil and gas exploration licensing system is one of the best ways of fast-tracking these," she said.
’‘Once the grid is connected, the state can then set out a space for renewable companies to operate from. We will also be discussing this with our petrol affairs division, and with the Department of the Environment, the ESB, Eirgrid and current foreshore operators."
Michael Walsh, chief executive of the Irish Wind Energy Association, said that, while he welcomed the move, other issues relating to the provision of wind and tidal energy needed to be resolved. ’‘Planning permission is one of the three main stages our members go through - the others are the economic startup costs and connection to the grid," he said.
’‘We asked the [Oireachtas] committee for automatic renewal of the current five-year planning expiration, or [to increase] this to ten-year expiration. There is also a major shortage of investment in the grid, and there should be some incentivising of Eirgrid and the ESB to increase capacity on it, because it’s just not there at the moment."
Sunday Business Post