A Q&A Conversation With Aidan Eames
As governments across the world seek alternative forms of energy, Dublin Consultant Aidan Eames is working to be at the forefront of Ireland’s push towards offshore wind energy expansion.
Eames and other Clark Hill energy attorneys have recently launched the firm’s Offshore Wind practice group to serve clients investing in and manufacturing products related to the growing industry.
Eames recently discussed the new practice and how he serves clients, while also reflecting on his first year with Clark Hill.
What sparked the launch of the Offshore Wind practice?
There have been commitments made by the Irish, European Union, and many other governments globally towards decarbonization and alternative energy. Ireland and Europe are very well positioned for offshore wind energy, and our government here has made a massive commitment to quadruple its presence in wind energy over the next 10 years.
On certain windy days onshore we’re generating 100% of our energy from wind turbines and overall, we’re generating 30% of our energy from alternative forms of energy, including onshore wind turbines. Now we want to replicate and magnify that in the offshore space. Our government has committed to consistent 80% renewable energy production by 2030.
Where does Clark Hill fit in with this offshore wind expansion?
Over the next 7-10 years, there’s a massive program for offshore wind off the coast of Ireland, and that’s the one that we’re aiming for. Our entry point will be the new consenting process for wind energy.
Since the turbines are planned to be located between 5 and 15 miles offshore, boats will be needed to transport pipes and floating platforms, and the grid will need to be expanded. With onshore turbines, you need planning permits, but with offshore turbines on the seabed, you have many more stakeholders, including fisheries, heritage, ecology, military, telecommunications, and government agencies. Developers will also have to work with the onshore communities, so that’s a challenge for anyone developing offshore wind, and it’s our most important entry point at this stage.
How will this enhance what Clark Hill can offer to clients involved in the offshore wind industry?
We have a multi-disciplinary approach here within Clark Hill. We have regulatory, planning, energy, property, commercial, and transport law specialists and teams, all of which feed into an integrated solution for the different stakeholders.
Another entry point for us will be through the new Maritime Area Planning Act, which was brought into law a year ago, and it anticipates a build-up of up to seven gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which would be 80% of Ireland’s electricity needs at that time.
You mentioned onshore communities, what involvement do they have in this process?
Yes, another important aspect is the benefit for communities. Coastal communities and other stakeholders have bought into this massive program for over the next 20 years, and there’s a large process of consultation and community gain envisaged in this area. We are in discussions with some of those communities and agencies presently to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible for all sides, and so that we can anticipate issues in the regulatory area and any potential objections before they arise, and deal with them with dignity and professionalism.
Could you provide some perspective on the scale and scope of this work in Ireland?
The offshore turbines will be between 5 and 15 miles offshore with dozens of wind farms and thousands of turbines, and estimates are up to $50 billion for the project overall. At full scale, this will be more alternative energy than what Ireland requires. The idea is that Ireland will become a net exporter of electricity in place of gas that we import from the North Sea. Our government has made it a policy to not drill for any more gas, and we’re not licensing any more fields for fossil fuels. It’s a huge commitment by Ireland and an act of faith and confidence in the offshore wind initiative.
Turning to your own practice, how would you describe your practice in environmental law and how do you serve your clients in that space?
I merged my small law firm with Clark Hill last year, and since then I’ve been involved in commercial law and litigation, which isn’t directly relevant to the offshore wind work, but I also do a lot of regulatory work that is relevant.
This nascent industry in Europe requires a lot of input and support. Previously, I have been a government-appointed director for a large Irish gas company that is involved in wind farms, offshore gas, and the distribution of onshore gas. I was on that government-appointed board for two terms of five years.
I advise a lot of companies and developers on onshore wind, wind farms, and in the solar area. Offshore wind is a natural progression of that, and that’s where the next opportunity is.
You merged your firm about a year ago with Clark Hill, how has your first year been?
My first year has been excellent. The biggest impacts and effects have been from the generosity of the people working within the firm. Their openness and ambition have alleviated any concerns I initially had about a possible cultural disconnect. We’ve found them to be very open and willing to help and engage, and also willing to learn about what we’re doing in Europe.
Lastly, you’re involved with quite a bit of charitable work in the medical field, can you describe what that entails?
I’m involved in palliative care and hospice care programs in Ireland and in Africa. I have led the Irish Government’s overseas volunteer program in Africa, Central America, South America, and elsewhere. It’s essentially the Irish equivalent of USAID (United States Agency for International Development) but on a smaller scale. I was appointed by the government to be chairman of that and also acted as CEO in the past.
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