On top of the Irish fishing industry’s pelagic and demersal trawlers losing thousands of tonnes of quota in Irish waters as the result of the recent unbalanced and unjust EU/UK Brexit deal, the vital inshore fleet are now coming under increased pressure as the Government looks likely to proceed with giving licence authority to energy companies for offshore wind farms all around the coast line.
Aside from the ‘blot on the landscape’ sight of a forest of turbines off Ireland’s world-famous beautiful coastline, the impact of the placement of such sites on inshore fishermen and also of marine tourism vessels (sea angling, whale & dolphin watching, bird watching, etc) is of critical importance.
Most worrying is the fact that many of these wind farm applications seem to be going through a consultancy stage with little discussion with the people that it will affect most.
North Irish Sea
Plans for a €1bn Irish Sea wind farm that would stretch from north Dublin to Co. Louth are at an advanced stage with Norwegian state-owned renewable energy developer Statkraft already in the first consultation phase on the 500 megawatt ‘North Irish Sea Array’ project.
It is aiming to submit a planning application this year for a project with up to 30 turbines, each 250 metres in height, that will be visible from the Dublin, Meath and Louth coastline.
While Statkraft Ireland managing director, Kevin O'Donovan stated that the company are going to ‘engage’ with the coastal communities, there has been little discussion with east coast fishermen as yet – particularly the small vessels that operate an important whelk fishery on these grounds and whom are aware that the wind farm site alone is not the only problem but the exclusion zone that surrounds them.
Meanwhile, another company, Aniar Offshore Array Limited, an Irish ORE development company, are proposing to develop an offshore wind energy array off the coasts of Sligo, Leitrim and South Donegal.
This project is currently in the early stages of application for an Investigatory Foreshore Licence and, the company state, if the licencing authority grant the Foreshore Licence requested, Aniar Offshore Array intend to “fully investigate the feasibility of the development by carrying out site-specific investigations and survey work”.
While Aniar state that the actual sites (Phase 1 (Static) and Phase 2 (Floating) are 180 sq. km and 125 sq. km, the fact that the total ‘site investigation area’ within which the surveys are to be conducted is a vast 1,162.26 sq. km, encompassing most of Donegal Bay, and run right up to the shoreline on the southern side of the bay where presumably the cables would come onto land.
This proposed site, which has only become known amongst Donegal Bay fishermen in recent days following highlighting by the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA), is causing great concern as the area includes both hard and clean grounds and therefore would have a major impact on small trawlers and potters.
It is also likely to be strongly opposed by local marine tourism vessels, particularly charter sea angling businesses who have stated that Donegal Bay’s reputation for fishing – with in excess of 50 species of fish available, including the magnificent shoals of bluefin tuna – brings anglers from all over the world, and the money they spend during their visits is vital to the seasonal economy of places such as Killybegs and Mullaghamore.
Meanwhile, with a Government-set climate change target of 70% renewable energy by 2030, several applications have also been made by energy companies for surveying licences of the south coast stretching from Dunmore East in Co Waterford to Ballycotton in Co Cork.
As reported in the Irish Examiner (14th March), energy company Energia Renewables have an application since 2019 to conduct feasibility surveys for turbines from Helvick Head to beyond Dunmore East and this is generating concern due to the size of the proposed project and its proximity to shore.
Energia’s application for a foreshore license is to survey for a wind farm of either 125 turbines of 195m in height, or 50 turbines of 260m height with the closest point of the survey grid being 5km from Helvick Head.
Another license application is by SSE Renewables Ltd. to survey a 689sq km area 25km off the Waterford and Wexford coastline, while DP Energy Ireland has applied to investigate a site extending from Ardmore past Ballycotton towards Cork Harbour, 9.9km from shore at its nearest point.
The planned Waterford site has led to campaigners calling for Irish offshore wind farms to be situated at least 22km from the coast.
The Blue Horizon campaign, founded by residents of Helvick in Co. Waterford, where prospective sites for wind farms come as close as 5km from the shore, argues that a 22km minimum distance is being applied in other EU countries and Ireland should follow suit.
But residents say locating turbines within 22km of the shore would have a negative visual impact as well as negative impacts on tourism, biodiversity and the fishing industry.
“We spent time looking at what is done in other European countries and it quickly became apparent to us that 5km is shocking in comparison to international practice,” Eveleen Drohan, a Helvick resident and spokesperson for Blue Horizon, said, adding that the jurisdictions have laws stipulating how close to the coast wind farms can go."
"We want to let the public know what is happening, and to highlight the flaws with the process in Ireland at the moment.”
Emmet O' Muirithe, another member of Blue Horizon, said the cumulative impact if numerous wind farm operations were constructed along the coast was not being adequately considered.
“We have to meet those 2030 targets, and wind is a big asset for us, but let’s not jump the gun and let private developers in to rule the roost,” Mr O'Muirithe said. “Let’s have some debate and at least establish a perimeter around the coasts.”
Wexford – Clare - Kerry
Moneypoint Offshore Wind Farm is ESB and Equinor’s flagship floating offshore wind development project proposed through the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill (due to be enacted in 2021) and if developed, will be delivered in: (a) the first phase, ‘Moneypoint Offshore One’ to be located 16km off the Clare/Kerry Coast.
The expected capacity from the first phase is estimated to be 400mw with the final windfarm area likely to be in the order of 70sq. km and (b) the second phase, ‘Moneypoint Offshore Two’ would be located a further 20km west of Moneypoint Offshore One, taking the total project area of 200sq. km.
Also, in Co. Wexford, the Energia Offshore Wind company are proposing ‘development activity’ to investigate possible sites to be located 11.8km off Cahore Point, Wexford
The big picture
A 20-year National Marine Planning Framework is due to be published before the end of March 2021 and its clear that a lot of energy companies are ‘throwing their hat in the ring’ - knowing that Ireland has committed to reaching certain renewable energy targets by 2030.
“But at what cost to Ireland’s coastal communities will these energy targets be achieved?” asks IFSA Chairman Cormac Burke.
“If we only look at the proposed wind farm sites in this article (there are others) then we’re talking about thousands of sq. kilometres of sites, survey areas, exclusion zones etc. all of which will greatly affect the livelihoods of so many people in Irish coastal communities.
“What happens, for example, to the inshore pot fisherman who, as a result of his traditional fishing grounds now being blocked off, will have to travel further to fish – not only creating an added cost in fuel but also endangering life as his journey will now be considerably lengthened and often in poor weather conditions?
“And what of the impact on marine tourism? Some years ago, during the reign of EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki, I asked her at a meeting in Brussels as to how Ireland was to cope for the future with quota reductions ongoing ever year and decommissioning schemes to reduce the size of the fleet to match the available quota, only for the available quota to be reduced once again the following year in an ever decreasing circle ---- her answer was that inshore fisheries and marine tourism was the ‘way ahead’ for those who found themselves pushed out of the commercial fishing industry.
“So here we are now with all of these people who invested into these sectors now facing losing their areas of operations so that someone somewhere can get a big bonus cheque,” he said.
“This constant shafting of the Irish fishing, seafood and marine industries simply cannot continue.
“Increasing quotas for EU nations’ vessels in Irish waters while Irish vessels face quota reductions in their own waters – an industry administrative authority who consistently work against the seafood industry instead of for it – and now allowing big energy companies to close popular inshore fishing grounds and end the inshore fisheries tradition which has kept rural coastal communities alive for hundreds of years.
“This purge of Ireland’s maritime tradition and of Irish seafaring folk must stop and this Government must begin to give priority to the people, the real owners of Ireland’s marine resources, instead of yet again sacrificing entire communities to meet EU policies,” Cormac Burke said.