Energy giant Centrica has been forced to delay one of its proposed wind farm developments under pressure from the island.
Chief Minister Allan Bell told Tynwald that the firm had been left in no doubt the combined impact of wind farm developments on shipping lanes was ‘unacceptable’, given the need for year-round reliable, frequent and cost-effective ferry services.
Centrica and Dong Energy have joined forces as Celtic Array to develop wind farms in the Irish Sea. The first formal stage of a community consultation is due to begin for one of the proposed wind farms which has been named Rhiannon.
Celtic Array is also looking to develop an area to the north of the Rhiannon site, which would be directly in the path of the Steam Packet’s Heysham and Liverpool routes.
The Steam Packet, director of harbours Captain Michael Brew and passenger watchdog TravelWatch, have all expressed concerns that the cumulative effect of all the current and proposed wind farms, together with the Morecambe Bay gas field platforms, will restrict sea routes and lead to a greater likelihood of cancelled and delayed sailings, particularly in bad weather – as well as increased journey times and costs.
Mr Bell told Tynwald: ‘The outcome of the pressure exerted collectively by government departments, the Steam Packet, Travelwatch, the Chamber of Commerce and many others is that Centrica has put back its programme for developing the area that potentially will have the most adverse impact on Steam Packet services.’
He said the purpose of the delay is to allow for further consideration of the ‘cumulative shipping and navigation issues, most particularly those that would adversely impact on the Steam Packet and the Isle of Man’.
But a spokesman for Celtic Array insisted: ‘We have been clear that any development in the North East Area is in the very early stages. No proposal will be submitted in the North East Area without further engagement and formal pre-application consultation with all stakeholders.’
Dong Energy held a public information session at the Villa Marina in September over its plans for a 200-turbine extension to the existing Walney Island wind farm off the Cumbrian coast, which opened earlier this year.
Dong claimed there would be no disruption to Isle of Man shipping but Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward insisted this was misleading as the proposed site cut through one of the bad weather routes used by the island’s lifeline ferries.
Commenting on Sunday’s bad weather, which saw one return crossing cancelled, he said the subsequent sailing would probably not happen in the future if the proposed wind farms were built as this would remove crucial bad weather route options.
‘Conditions like we had last year make it an important consideration because it is a lifeline for the island. If we can’t sail, shops go empty, people go hungry and the economy of the island goes through difficulty.’
He said it was not unusual for conditions like those on Monday to prevail for two to three days which was potentially serious if they could not sail.
‘It’s not a case of don’t build them but don’t build them across our sailing routes,’ he said.
Dick Clague of Isle of Man campaigning group Travelwatch echoed Mr Woodward’s concerns. The proposed wind farm development would obstruct current bad weather routes. It could cause even bigger detours during poor weather, in turn adding £300,000 to £400,000 to fuel costs for the Manannan over the course of a year, he suggested.
‘It could incur extra time, extra cost with the potential for far more disruption to sailings,’ he said.
It was important, he added for as many people as possible to voice their concerns and ensure they were documented as the wind farm reaches the planning stage.
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