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ESB in multi-billion euro offshore wind farm expansion plan

The ESB is plotting a major drive into offshore wind farm construction that is likely to run into billions of euro.

The State-owned electricity company has put out a tender seeking “the provision of renewable energy marine services related to offshore wind farms”.

It says it is planning to develop or acquire the wind farms from next year, through a pipeline of projects going through the planning process.

Individual projects are expected to range between 200 megawatts and 500 megawatts in size, though some could be bigger. The plan is to locate the farms in the Irish Sea.

There is only one offshore wind farm constructed here – the Arklow bank project off the coast of Wicklow.

Industry sources said the construction cost per megawatt for an offshore wind farm is now in the region of €2m, having fallen in recent years. That means a 200-megawatt project would cost around €400m and a 500-megawatt project would cost around €1bn.

It’s likely that the ESB would enter into partnerships to build the farms rather than funding the whole cost itself. The tender documents envisage that joint ventures may be entered into.

Potential construction partners would include the likes of Danish company DONG Energy or Japan’s Mitsubishi, while institutional investors may provide financial backing.

“Off-shore technologies are now well established and the cost of electricity production from these sources continues to decline. We are working on early and mid-stage development opportunities in Ireland and the UK,” the ESB said.

“There will be a consenting phase after which the projects can move to construction, which is likely to be in the early 2020s. ESB typically deploys a range of funding options in its projects,” it added.

The ESB has already been working on developing a number of projects in the UK, including looking to build up to 400 megawatts of onshore wind with Coriolis Energy.

Earlier this year it opened a gas-fired power station at Carrington near Manchester. At home, it has partnered up with Bord na Mona to build solar farms at locations in Offaly, Kildare and Roscommon.

“ESB sees the generation of low-carbon electricity as the essential enabler for the economy’s transition to a low carbon future. ESB is progressing projects on a number of fronts, these include onshore wind, solar and more recently off-shore wind,” it said in a statement.