Equinor has pulled out of plans to co-develop a giant floating wind project off Ireland, in a blow to the nation’s energy transition ambitions that was said by its former partner to be partly down to frustration with slow regulatory progress.
The Norwegian energy group was part of plans alongside Irish utility ESB to develop the 1.4GW, €2bn ($2.3bn) Green Atlantic@Moneypoint project off the Atlantic coast, replacing Ireland’s only coal-fired powered station – due to be switched off in 2025 – with a green hub that would supply electricity to 1.6 million homes and be linked to hydrogen production to help decarbonise local industries.
But Equinor said in a statement sent to Recharge on Thursday: “Equinor has decided to not continue its early phase offshore wind activities in Ireland. Together with ESB, we have looked at potential offshore wind projects along the Irish coast but have concluded that we will not move ahead with offshore wind in Ireland at this point.
“The coast of Ireland has strong wind conditions, making it an interesting market for offshore wind, however Equinor has, and will always have, a disciplined portfolio approach to growth. We have reviewed the market situation and potential investments in line with our strategy to develop profitable growth in renewables and decided not to pursue our offshore wind activities in Ireland.”
Although Equinor did not elaborate further, its former partner claimed the decision was partly linked with slow progress putting a regulatory regime in place for offshore wind development.
They decided to stop their early phase offshore wind activities in Ireland, in part due to local regulatory uncertainty.
ESB said in a statement: “Following a review by Equinor of its strategy to develop profitable growth in renewables they decided to stop their early phase offshore wind activities in Ireland, in part due to local regulatory uncertainty.”
ESB said it remains committed to offshore wind development off Ireland, although it was not clear what plans are now in place for Atlantic@Moneypoint.
The utility said: “While ESB is disappointed with the decision by Equinor to withdraw from Irish offshore wind development, this in no way diminishes the ambition of ESB to deliver an offshore wind portfolio of scale in our home market.
“The ESB team is making strong progress on the development work associated with an exciting multi-GW portfolio of projects. The first of these projects, Oriel Wind Farm in partnership with Parkwind, will enter into the first offshore wind renewable auction in 2022.”
Ireland a draw offshore
Ireland has emerged as a major draw for developers looking for new offshore wind development opportunities in Northern Europe, with more than 12GW of fixed-bottom and 10GW of floating wind projects at various stages of development by the likes of Shell, TotalEnergies, Ocean Winds, Iberdrola and Cobra/Flotation Energy.
The nation’s booming datacentre industry is seen as a major opportunity for green power deals, while Moneypoint was one of several big renewable hydrogen initiatives envisaged.
However, Ireland’s ambition to develop 5GW by 2030 is subject to a tight timetable of legislation and the launch of offshore wind specific auctions as soon as next year, and the local wind industry has regularly expressed concerns around speeding up regulatory measures needed to underpin an offshore wind build programme that’s “unlike anything ever done in Ireland before”.
The country’s national climate and energy plans are built around a 70%-green power system that is promoted as the first step in more ambitious capacity target for wind at sea, through which Ireland could become a net energy exporter.