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Windfarm firms seek changes to planning draft laws

Wind energy companies are pushing for amendments to draft laws to ease the passage of offshore windfarms through the planning system.

Among the changes they want to the Maritime Area Planning Bill are provisions to allow them to make alterations to offshore projects after they receive permission.

They say such “design flexibility” is essential to respond to unforeseen circumstances and to opt for the latest technologies that may become available as projects progress.

They also want an automatic right to re-apply if their projects are turned down without having to go back to the very beginning of the process.

They say they should also be facilitated to move to the next stage of development without waiting for the establishment of the new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA).

MARA will be empowered to grant Maritime Area Consents (MACs) to enable developers to carry out investigations for their planning applications and will also be an enforcement authority.

Seven offshore windfarms have priority status from the Government because of their advanced stage and are getting consents in advance of MARA’s establishment.

Industry body, Wind Energy Ireland, says other projects cannot wait for the body to be set up and need MACs next year, regardless of whether MARA is set up.

It also wants the bill to be amended to allow for environmental surveys to be carried out beyond the 12 nautical mile limit straight away without waiting for MARA.

Existing legislation only covers the area inside the 12-mile limit.

The Government pledged to pass the bill by last March, but the end of this year is now looking optimistic.

Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of Wind Energy Ireland, told an industry conference that projects could not wait or else renewable energy targets would not be met.

Martina Hennessy of the Department of Climate Action’s renewable energy division, said, it was important to create a robust planning system for the sector.

“MARA will be the body that will take on the consenting function. It will be established within a 12 to 18-month timeline, so while I can see people might have a view that the targets are not attainable, we feel that they still are,” she said.