Opinion: Mara regulatory body could be a gamechanger for Irish offshore wind but delays cost investment

A lack of dedicated policy and outdated legislation in Ireland has directly impeded the development of the country’s offshore wind.

MARA could unshackle Ireland's offshore wind sector but delays cost investment, warns Elaine Traynor

However, change is on the horizon in the form of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (Mara). 

It is hoped this new regulatory body, due to be fully established in the first quarter of next year, will bring more certainty and efficiency to the Irish offshore wind sector thus providing some much needed certainty for developers and international investors.

How Mara will work

Mara was established under The Maritime Area Planning Act 2021, which was enacted last December. At the time, it was heralded by Government as “the biggest reform of marine governance since the foundation of the state”.

This reform hasn’t come out of the blue – the Irish Government recognises Ireland’s potential where wind energy is concerned.

Last year 31% of Ireland’s electricity came from wind and the Irish government aims to increase its renewables target to 80% by 2030.

With one of the windiest coastlines in the world that target is entirely plausible, but not without the construction of more offshore windfarms. As such, the need for more efficient maritime regulation is a matter of urgency.

A primary function of Mara will be regulating and issuing a new state permit called a Maritime Area Consent (MAC).

This is essentially a consent to occupy a specific part of the maritime area for the purposes of maritime development, including offshore wind farms, with terms and conditions and a payment levy attached.

Playing catch-up

It replaces foreshore licences previously issued under the Foreshore Act – a more burdensome process that no doubt acted as a deterrent to the development of and foreign investment in, offshore wind.

The MAC process will be much more streamlined and will provide greater certainty for developers, and instil investor confidence in the Irish offshore wind industry generally.

Other responsibilities of Mara include granting licences for activities such as environmental surveys, ensuring robust compliance and enforcement measures, as well as managing the existing State foreshore-portfolio of leases.

Overall, to say this new regulatory body is integral to the development of offshore wind in Ireland would be an understatement.

Delays cost investment

While the establishment of Mara was welcomed last year by industry, it has been slower to get up and running than many anticipated.

Any further delay in fully establishing and resourcing Mara is likely to deter foreign investment in Irish offshore wind projects and undermine Ireland's ability to achieve its binding renewable energy targets. Nonetheless there is a sense of optimism that Mara will deliver, and the country will reap the rewards.

Elaine Traynor is a partner in Fieldfisher Ireland's corporate and commercial department and renewable energy team