Stormont blasted for ‘lack of urgency’ on Irish Sea floating wind turbine project

Company head tells Maritime UK: ‘Funding is there - so just give us the green light’

wind turbine
Artist's impression of how the Irish Sea floating wind turbine will look

The company behind a £1 billion-plus offshore energy project proposed for the Irish Sea has voiced frustration at the slow progress on getting the scheme moving.

North Channel Wind wants to instal up to 30 wind turbines 15 miles off the east Antrim coast, which will would ultimately generate enough electricity to power 500,000 homes over the next decade and potentially create hundreds of jobs.

But despite the company having already invested £20 million and having embarked on an extensive stakeholder engagement process with the fishing industry, coastal communities, environmental groups and other relevant bodies, it believes there has been “a lack of urgency” in progressing the scheme, first mooted in 2021.

North Channel Wind director Niamh Kenny, addressing an audience of policy-makers, economists and business leaders at a Maritime UK event in Belfast, insists that the time for the development to go ahead is now.

And she urged the Stormont Executive: “The funding is there, the climate emergency is upon us, and we know Northern Ireland waters are the best in UK and Ireland - so just give us the green light.”

Ms Kenny said:  “We need to see a greater sense of urgency at government level.

“Above all, we need The Crown Estate to commence a process to grant seabed rights for projects in Northern Ireland. This is a trigger event which is the ignition key to the project.”  

She outlined seven areas in need of urgent attention if the deadline to generate 80% of electricity zero carbon technologies by 2030 is to be achieved, fulfilling the ambition declared by the Executive to place the north among Europe’s top clean energy producers.  

She said the priorities the Executive must resolve as soon as possible include the creation of a ministerial task force to focus on the acceleration of offshore wind in Northern Ireland; enabling the region to achieve the targets set within the Climate Act and the Carbon Budget; and a re-focus on the critical path timeline within the Offshore Renewable Energy Action Plan (OREAP) to get a realistic schedule in place. 

floating wind turbines
Northern Channel Wind project director Niamh Kenny (DARREN KIDD)

“SBM Offshore, who are developers of this project, believe the waters off Northern Ireland provide better conditions for a floating wind turbine array than anywhere else around the UK and Ireland. It is a real offshore wind sweet spot,” Ms Kenny said. 

“Such a commitment by our investors is based on long experience in the energy field, but this needs to be matched by the policy community.”

Benefits to Northern Ireland of offshore wind have been independently analysed by a Renewable NI report, and show that 1.5GW of offshore wind connected in Northern Ireland by 2032 would result in 49 million tonnes of carbon dioxide offset (that’s the equivalent of 1.2 million less cars on the road or 145,000 less flights from London to New York), while from a supply chain perspective,  more than £1.9 billion spent with local suppliers over the life of the projects would equates to £2.4 billion of economic value to the region and add more than 32,000 full time jobs.