An escalating porpoise debate between Westminster and Brussels threatens to cast a shadow over a German-owned company’s plans to build a wind farm off the Gower coastline.
Channel Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of RWE npower renewables, has submitted a development consent order for Atlantic Array, a 200 square kilometre wind farm between Gower, Lundy and North Devon.
The UK planning inspectorate will assess the scheme.
But the European Commission would appear to be very much in the frame after announcing infringement action against the UK Government for allegedly failing to identify sites to protect harbour porpoises.
These sites include the Outer Bristol Channel, where Atlantic Array will be built if given the green light by the UK Government.
In a letter to the Porthcawl Environment Trust (PET), which submitted a complaint three years ago regarding a different offshore wind farm, the European Commission referred to the Outer Bristol Channel.
It said: “The Commission also raised concerns that the delay in proposing this site for the species under Article 4(1) of the Habitats Directive has meant that potentially damaging activities such as fishing and projects with the potential to cause acoustic disturbance have not been adequately considered.
“These include, for example, offshore wind farm developments such as those being considered in the Outer Bristol Channel which are being allowed to progress potentially without sufficient regard to the needs of the protection of the species as would have been the case had these areas been proposed for designation as special areas of conservation for that interest under the directive.”
Brian Saunders, PET spokesman, claimed the UK Government has had some 20 years to designate special areas of conservation for harbour porpoises, which have been assessed as under threat or in decline in some UK waters.
“The only comment has come from (UK Government department) Defra, which is that they are working on special areas of conservation,” he said.
“There is this quandary – they (UK Government) want wind farms and they want to abide by European legislation.”
Meanwhile, a separate organisation, Rhossili Working Group, said it had been researching official evidence of harbour porpoise populations off the coast of Wales and had been in contact with RWE about its findings.
A public consultation on the Atlantic Array scheme finishes on September 16, and Rhossili Working Group spokesman Carl Johnson said it would be submitting an objection.
“We think the location is wrong,” he said. “We think the scale is too large, and that there are possible adverse effects on marine life.”
If given the green light, Atlantic Array will cost £3.8billion and will generate enough clean energy for the equivalent of 900,000 homes, RWE has said.
In an environmental statement accompanying its development consent order application, it said harbour porpoise, common dolphin and grey seals were present at the site all-year round.
It added that building an offshore wind farm had the potential to harm these species, but found the effects to be “of minor adverse significance”.
It has, however, pledged to monitor marine mammal responses.
Swansea resident and former Green Party member Keith Ross said: “I am really glad the EU are getting tough on this.”
He claimed the UK Government did not have the best record complying with EU directives.
“With air pollution, several British cities have failed EU targets, and the UK Government always asks for more time,” added Mr Ross.
Nick Medic, of renewable energy group RenewableUK, said: “The wind industry takes its responsibility to protect wildlife extremely seriously.
“Before an offshore wind farm is built, developers have to prove that it won’t have a detrimental effect by providing a robust environmental impact assessment.”
The Post contacted the UK Government and RWE npower renewables, but no-one was available for comment at the time of going to press.
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