Irish Minister launches consultation for Maritime Area Consent regime

4C Offshore | Tom Russell
By: 19/01/2022
The Irish Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, has launched a consultation on aspects of the new Maritime Area Consent (MAC) State consent regime for offshore renewable energy.

The Maritime Area Consent (MAC) aims to be a first step in a new planning process. Developers who have been assessed for, and are subsequently awarded, a MAC can then proceed to apply for development permission, where they will undergo environmental assessment.

The news follows the enactment of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Act on 23 December 2021. The MAP Act provides the legal underpinning for an entirely new marine planning system. This planning system is designed to strike a balance, between harnessing Ireland’s offshore wind potential and protecting its marine environment.

The new MAC regime will assess the viability of proposed offshore renewable energy developers in a number of key areas, including in respect of their financial and technical competency, in advance of developers proceeding to environmental studies.

After the assessment and grant of the first batch of offshore renewable energy projects, responsibility will be handed over to a new Agency – the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA). The first batch of offshore renewables are expected to be established and operational from 2023.

This consultation on the MAC regime presents the proposed model for the assessment of the first offshore renewable energy projects. It also outlines important information on how the new MAC regime will operate. Feedback received will help finalise the assessment regime. The first project consents are expected to be issued in the second half of this year, 2022.

The consultation will remain open for a period of four weeks. It will close on 16th February 2022.

Launching today’s consultation, Minister Ryan said: "The Maritime Area Planning Act is a transformational piece of legislation. It provides regulatory certainty and the legislative underpinning for Ireland to embrace its abundant offshore potential. Under the Act, the creation of a new Maritime Area Consent as a ‘first step’ in the planning process will ensure a fair and robust assessment of potential offshore renewable energy developers. This will ensure that only the most viable offshore projects will have the opportunity to apply for development permission from An Bord Pleanála. At that point, they will undergo all the necessary environmental assessments."

The Irish government has set a target under Climate Action Plan 2021 to increase the proportion of renewable electricity to up to 80% by 2030, including an increased target to achieve up to 5 GW of installed offshore wind generation by 2030.

There is a further commitment in the Programme for Government to develop a longer-term plan to utilise the potential 30 GW of offshore floating wind power in Atlantic waters.