Work is under way on a bid to open a multi-million pound offshore floating wind farm off the coast of Northern Ireland by 2029.
Offshore energy specialist SBM Offshore is assessing the region’s coastal potential for a proposed 400MW North Channel Wind floating project.
Two sites in the North Channel, around halfway between Northern Ireland and Scotland, are being considered for the development, which has been described as a “game changer”.
The power from an estimated 20-25 turbines would then connect to shore via existing power plants at Ballylumford and Kilroot.
If approvals are given, construction could start on the turbines in 2027 with hopes it could be operational by 2029.
The project is also expected to create significant local supply chain opportunities including the assembly of the required steel floating devices, logistics, marine services and construction.
Niamh Kenny, project director with North Channel Wind, described Northern Ireland as a “sweet spot” for a floating wind farm.
“It’s got very good wind speeds yet it has a benign environment in the sense there are very little waves and where we’re building there is no particularly strong tides either so the level of availability is much higher than it would be in the north of Scotland and that reduces the price,” she said.
“We believe Northern Ireland will be one of the cheapest places to build floating offshore wind anywhere in the British Isles and hopefully that will be eventually reflected in the overall cost of electricity here in Northern Ireland.”
Ms Kenny said the two sites would generate a combined 400MW, representing 13 per cent of Northern Ireland’s energy needs and up to 57 per cent of domestic requirement.
SBM Offshore’s floating technologies have been described as “particularly well-suited to the Irish Sea” for their significantly reduced environmental impact during installation and operation when compared to conventional turbines whose foundations are on the seabed.
Ms Kenny added: “We are in discussions with the Northern Ireland government, the grid operator SONI, the energy regulator UREGNI, Renewables NI and the Crown Estate.
“Significantly, we have completed our site characterisation and have commenced a scoping exercise in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), which is the first step in applying for a marine licence to build offshore infrastructure.”
Representatives from North Channel Wind will be meeting key stakeholders including the fishing community, local interest groups and other marine users over the coming months to gauge reactions, optimise the project and build partnerships.