Energy firm Celtic Array insists it is listening to concerns about the impact of wind farm developments on vital island ferry routes.
Public exhibitions about the proposed Rhiannon wind farm were held in Port St Mary on Friday and at the i-Museum in Douglas the following day, with a third taking place today (Monday) at Ramsey town hall.
At a press conference last week, Infrastructure Minister David Cretney and Steam Packet boss Mark Woodward joined forces with the Chamber of Commerce and TravelWatch to voice serious concerns about the cumulative threat a series of proposed renewable energy projects planned in the Irish Sea could have on lifeline services.
Of particular concern are proposals for the North East area which cuts right across the Liverpool and Heysham ferry routes.
Isle of Man Newspapers has urged readers to join a campaign to safeguard these vital sea routes by signing a ‘Don’t cut us off’ petition.
At the public exhibition held at Mount Tabor Methodist church hall, as part of the first formal stage of Celtic Array’s community consultation for the Rhiannon wind farm, head of development for Centrica Renewable Energy, Laura Jeffs said: ‘We recognise and understand the concerns. This helps us to shape the project. This is what this consultation is all about. We appreciate the importance of ferry routes. But it’s not just shipping – there are other things to consider.’
‘We are not taking any decisions lightly. We are assessing a number of different concerns.’
She said there were some misconceptions about Celtic Array’s proposals and there was no final plan for the NE area.
‘Yes, we have an intention to build in the NE zone but we don’t know where, when or how much. We will not bring forward a proposal for the NE area for another one or two years yet. There is more consultation to be done.’
Ms Jeffs said a consent application for Rhiannon wind farm, which will be 34km from the island at its closest, would be submitted to the UK planning inspectorate at the end of next year.
How many turbines it will have will depend on their size – ranging from 146 15MW turbines with maximum height to the tip of the blade of 300m to 440 5MW turbines measuring 180 metres. In contrast, the turbines in the Walney wind farm familiar to many passengers on the Heysham ferry generate 3.5MW and have maximum height to the tip of 150m.
Ms Jeffs accepted they were big machines but fewer larger turbines could have a far smaller visual impact and there would be less impact on marine animals during construction.
She said Celtic Array – a joint venture between Centrica and Dong Energy – had entered an agreement with the Crown Estate over the development of the Irish Sea Zone, with a target to produce a generating capacity of 4.2GW although there is no contractual requirement to do that.
Rhiannon can provide up to 2.2GW.
Ms Jeffs accepted that at the moment it is ‘probably unlikely’ that the third area in the zone, the SW area, will be developed.
That leaves the NE Zone which has the biggest impact on the Isle of Man. But Ms Jeffs said that following consultation with the Steam Packet and others, it could be the NE area will not be developed to generate the remaining 2GW but could have a lesser capacity of 1GW or 500MW – and this could satisfy the Crown Estate if all options had been explored.
She said following talks with Dong Energy a commitment had been made to increase the gap between the Walney wind farm extension and the tip of the NE area from the proposed 3.8 nautical miles to 4.3.
The size of this gap had been one of the major concerns of the Steam Packet.