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The human cost of ‘green’ energy

Editorial comment by Cormac Burke, IFSA

Traveling recently on the Belfast to Liverpool ferry my attention was drawn by a massive wind farm off the English coast (which, from a bit of online googling I believe to be the Burbo Bank wind farm) and I was in awe of the sheer size of it - I counted approximately 60 turbines and there were dozens more off in the fading distance - so I’m guessing the entire installation consists of at least 90 to 100 units.

My research tells me that this installation is under the ownership of Danish company Ørsted and was previously owned under the name of DONG (Danish Oil & Natural Gas) - however, their website which it seems hasn’t been updated in quite some time, claims that this farm consists of only 25 turbines which provide power for 80,000 homes.

Regardless of who owns the massive wind farm area that I observed, it struck me that if each single turbine in this, or any other wind farm, represented the loss of a livelihood of one single fisherman then no amount of ‘green energy’ is worth it.

I use the words ‘green energy’ and not ‘cheap energy’ as, despite all that we’ve been previously told, sustainable and renewable energy is of course important given the global issues of climate change etc., but energy customers on either side of the Irish Sea have yet to see the promised ‘cheaper’ energy that we were all promised.

So lets go back to the fishermen - - on any wind farm anywhere, the installation of such an operation firstly involves a closing and loss of fishing grounds of at least 20 sq miles (and much more than that in some cases) - and not only does this mean these fishing grounds are no longer an option to fishermen who have traditionally worked these grounds for hundreds of years but it means these fishing vessels become displaced and have to move on to other grounds further away (and suffer increased fuel costs and longer times at sea in dangerously poor weather in doing so) - grounds that are already being worked by a different group of fishermen - and therefore this results in increased pressure on fish stocks on those grounds.

Such scenarios have obviously resulted in some fishermen simply going out of business - so now we have a situation of a man who was previously earning a wage, paying his taxes, his mortgage, his wife doing the weekly food shopping locally, his children attending local schools and sports clubs - - and with the loss of his only way of earning now gone, many must relocate away from their original areas, sign on for unemployment benefit (going from a contributor to a dependent on the State) and the impact of this in socio economic terms to small coastal communities is massive.

During my several trips to beautiful Newfoundland I observed the damage that an uncaring government can cause to rural fishing communities and its a sad sight to see so many once-thriving small fishing communities now ghost villages with tumbled down cottages and witness the skeletons of old vessels that once provided employment and food to entire generations of sea faring families.

Indeed the same can be seen in many parts of the west of Ireland where, several decades ago, the government of the day bent to external pressure and put a ban on the catching of wild salmon - a seasonal fishery that, along with having a few sheep on the hill and a bit of land to tend for potatoes and other crops, provided small crofter families and communities with a lifeline for a thousand years.

At the stroke of a pen in permanently ceasing the wild salmon fishery, the result over the coming years was thousands of young people now left with no livelihood to follow their parents into, emigrated to the cities or else abroad and leaving a dying older generation and many abandoned homes which stand like gravestones as a tragic reminder of a now-dead community and a way of life eradicated by politicians who know the price of everything but have no clue about the real value of anything.

And so, as modern day environmental groups, often backed by wealthy NGO money, pollute the media and political circles with cries of how the fishing industry is destroying the world, none of them ever seem to object to a wind farm project - its impact on the sea bed with structural disturbances during construction or the cables that have been widely reported to emit electrical pulses that drive local fish stocks off these grounds - and even the ‘floating’ wind farms where there is no mention from these same groups of the carbon footprint of the construction, maintenance and relatively short live span of these turbines.

From an Irish fishing industry perspective, due to Brexit and events arising as being part of the EU community which has enabled the fishing powers of other nations but left Ireland with 15% of the fish in its own waters, we have gone from a food producing nation to one that has a fleet and fish processing industry that is dwarfed by smaller European nations with much smaller coastlines - - and we now import more fish for human consumption than we catch ourselves, all the while our government condones State reports to cover up this fact by including huge volumes of different types of imported seafood as being ‘Irish’ and thereby papering over the cracks of an industry of an island nation that they are responsible for the systematic eradication of.

Green energy, save the seals, protect the birds - there is an endless list of well intentioned groups in existence but yet no where, not within one single corner of Irish political life is there an ounce of goodwill or effort into saving Ireland’s coastal fishing communities.

So next time you look out to sea to a wind farm then remember that your are indeed looking at green but not cheap energy but take note and count the cost that each turbine represents a fishing family who were put out of work and contributed to another stab into an already dying fishing community.

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