The Royal Yacht Association (RYA) has written to Marine Scotland, raising a series of issues arising from the Scottish Government’s current consideration of the proposal for the Kintyre Array ‘offshore’ windfarm – which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, offshore. It is simply in the water.
The Kintyre Array sits at the edge of the North Channel, by the traffic separation zone that manages the busy shipping routes out into the Atlantic. It lies across the entrance to the waterway between the Mull of Kintyre and the chain of Argyll islands from Islay, Jura and Gigha to Mull.
This is the run for leisure craft up to Oban, Loch Linnhe and down the the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, into Loch Sunart or on to round Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point of mainland UK and out to the Small isles and Skye or west to Tiree and Coll.
These are the legendary sailing grounds of the Scottish west coast, much of them in Argyll, the best in Europe and often said to be the best in the world.
This is Argyll – the seat of the Lords of the Isles, the masters of the waterways, the roads of then, now and again.
The RYA draws attention to the perils the proposed position of the Kintyre Array would cause for navigators and sailors taking this popular route.
Southbound traffic from the west coast sailing grounds, in avoiding the turbine field and dealing with the prevailing weather and sea conditions, is likely to have difficulty staying clear of the fringes of the northbound shipping lane in the traffic separation zone. Much of this traffic is large-scale commercial shipping where lookouts are unreliable and manoevering is slow and restricted.
Leisure craft using this route most frequently come from Northern Ireland, given the coastal proximities and from the Clyde and the southern Clyde approaches.
They round the Mull of Kintyre to take the long and already difficult run up the west coast of Kintyre.
As the RYA says, the effect of wind against tide in this area, often strong on both counts, makes for sudden high seas. The great stretch of the Atlantic creates a long fetch, rollers broadsiding on boats as they run on to the lee shores of Kintyre – where, for long stretches there is no shelter to be sought.
There are also two underwater reefs above which the tides cause powerful overfalls – tumbling and disturbed water.
If yachts and motor cruisers take the inside of the proposed array, they risk being driven ashore. If they take the outside, they are exposed to more challenging weather conditions. If they aim to slalom the turbine towers, they may find that the wind direction will not allow safe tacking and they risk collision with the tower platforms.
And then there is the fog that is part of the character of this area. Paul McCartney sang it in Mull of Kintyre: ‘the mist rolling in from the sea’. The impact of fog on the safety of small boats, including fishing and fish farm boats, in the proposed location of the Kintyre Array is unthinkable.
The neatest lifeboat stations – at Portrush in Northern Ireland, Islay and Campbeltown are each 25 nautical miles away. Their speed to the scene of a collision, grounding or sinking in the Kintyre Array area could not be sufficiently fast to avoid fatalities.
For these and other reasons the RYA has asked for this array to be withdrawn on obvious safety grounds.
You may read the full RYA submission to Marine Scotland here: RYA response to proposed Kintyre offshore windfarm
Kintyre Offshore Windfarm Action Group letter
Bob Miller, Chair of the Kiintyre Offshore Windfarm Action Group, who has seen the RYA letter, has now written to Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, passing on the RYA letter to Maarine Scotland and reinforcing its response and recommendations.
Mr Miller says: ‘I attach a copy of a letter from the Royal Yacht Association who have written to your civil servants regarding the specific navigation hazard posed by the proposed Kintyre Inshore Windfarm near Machrihanish.
‘It is immensely significant that they have singled this site out ALONE of the priority nine sites that the Government has identified in its Draft Plan for Offshore Wind and have stated unequivocally that “for safety reasons this Option should be withdrawn from the Final Plan”
‘It is also very significant that your consultants APBMer said that this windfarm posed no risk to leisure and small craft shipping. Just as they siad that it posed no hazard to aircraft landing at Machrihanish airport (9,500 passengers last year), despite the fact that the operator Logan Air wrote emphatically that it represented a grave hazard to aircraft taking off and landing.
‘I urge you to read this letter from RYA and consider the ramifications if this Inshore Windfarm is retained in your Draft Plan and then the risk that the RYA raises comes to pass.
‘It is just another reason amongst the many, many that you have been presented with that show starkly why this development should not be progressed’.
The means validate the end
Press articles have suggested that the Scottish Government is determined to progress the series of ‘offshore’ wind farms in its Draft Plan for Offshore Wind by delivering planning consents before the end of this parliamentary session with the Scottish Election 2011 – on 5th May.
This possibility is causing great stress in Kintyre and Tiree where each is faced by ‘offshore’ windfarm proposals which are very clearly flawed to the point of not being consentable – but which they fear may be rammed through regardless, for political expediency.
We too are concerned at this short-termist potential action.
The Draft Plan for Offshore Wind is a seriously unsound document and the consultation process that has accompanied it has demonstrably been lacking in integrity and objectivity.
Scotland is aiming to be in renewable energy development for the long term – in fact into the future in the fullest possible sense.
This is an enormous project involving grave commitments.
Rushing it – and on the grounds of unable plans, ignoring issues of genuine substance from people who wish renewables development well but point to matters of significant insecurity in the draft plan – will discredit and disable this most important of initiatives to sustain Scotland’s future.
The political damage from cavalier action would be severe. We would suggest a far more measured approach and one where ‘consultation’ moves beyond the shallow and unhearing manipulation we have ourselves witnessed at first hand – and reported.
The Scottish Government – any Scottish Government – must allow the development schedule to take whatever time the issues need to be identified and to be properly evaluated – and the game may indeed change, may have to change.
The detail is the game changer
For the record, For Argyll is a long standing supporter of the policy of developing a future for Scotland sustained by renewable energies.
Then we saw, in the detail of the Draft Plan for Offshore Wind, a glimpse of what this will actually mean – and realised, fast and hard, that our happy stance on the matter was inadequately interrogated.
Not any more.
We’re looking at the land mass given over to onshore wind turbines – now to contain swathes of the forest estate; and to the scale of the sea areas proposed for offshore wind and wave.
And we’re looking at Tiree as a touchstone which, on the current plans, may be the game changer. It has certainly been the tipping point for us.
The Argyll Array is five times the size of the island of Tiree. It starts from close inshore. Its 200 metre high turbines will dominate the south and south west beaches on the island. They may dominate the entire island – is highest point is Ben Hynish, a5 141 metres. It will surround, obliterate and swamp the 48 metre high Skerryvore Lighthouse, one of Scotland’s pyramids and, for what it may not be worth, a listed building.
It will be joined by two other offshore wind farms, one to the north of the island and one to the south east – and by a wave farm to the east. And somewhere in the middle of this will be a tiny Atlantic island which will also have a substantial shore facility to manage and transmit the power generated at sea.
Each of the ‘offshore’ wind and wave installations – wrapped around the Scottish west and north coasts, will impact significantly on the sea bed, on the submarine landscape and on the routes and waymarks of marine species.
We’re looking at forests of tower foundations, heavy anchors and chains – supporting and tethering the wind energy devices. And there will be many and lengthy subsea interconnectors to be laid to channel the power generated to the national grid and perhaps to a European grid.
Later there will be marine turbines themselves.
We’re looking at a total impact that will see the physical world we live in irrevocably and massively changed – and we do not see – anywhere – the depth of information, the quality of thought, forethought and consideration crucial to guiding the nation’s way through this almost literal minefield.
We are moving far too fast for the research capability, the intellectual capacity and possibly the integrity of those in charge of this drive.
We admit to be being numbed by the position to which these combined perspectives have brought us. We are currently investigating the nuclear option. We do not advocate it but we have come to realise that we have been part of an automatic dismissal of nuclear power without being sufficiently acquainted with the issues and without being open to the possibility that it may have a part to play. So we are in research mode on this one.
The sheer physical scale of what will be needed to generate power from renewable energy sources – which in themselves cannot reliably meet our baseload requirement – seems out of balance.
The recent agreement to run a subsea connector from Norway to Scotland, with Norway’s huge hydro power supplying Scotland’s baseload and Scotland’s wind power pumping Norway’s water back up to generate again is a genius collaborative initiative.
But the Crown Estate Commissioners and the developers are in the driving seat. They are being accommodated on all points. The Crown Estate Commissioners are licensing anything and everything on demand in their dash for cash before someone, sometime, will change the ownership of the rights currently residing in the asset portfolio called ‘The Crown Estate’.
The developers are insisting on inshore as opposed to offshore because it’s the more profitable option. There are technologies for floating – and movable – wind turbines which would facilitate their installation in much deeper water, rather than on the convenient inshore reefs the developers are asking for at the moment.
We need a rational plan on a timeline, to include a themed and structured national conversation that is listened to and respected. People are heart sick of being patronised by wet-behind-the-ears civil servants who cannot even frame documents, survey questions and laws competently – and who care less.
We had expected to be invigorated by the Draft Plan for Offshore Wind. Instead of that we are alarmed by its mindless gung-ho imperialism, its obvious flaws amd its intellectual fragility.
We are also disturbed by a manipulative process which is closed to evidenced information that does not fit the required picture.
If inclusiveness, collaboration and democracy mean anything in the ‘new’ politics, we can do much better – and we must.
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