Offshore wind farms have recently been cancelled because of sea birds, rocky ground and basking sharks. But the latest claim is that they could threaten the economic lifeline of an entire island.
The Isle of Man government and business community are trying to prevent turbines being built in the Irish Sea, which they say would endanger the world’s longest continuous ferry service and create a radar black spot for flights.
The Steam Packet Company, which runs thrice daily services between the island and mainland UK, and has operated since 1830, believes it might have to cancel 15 per cent of sailings.
“We are facing a wall of wind farms,” said Mark Woodward, the chief executive of the business, owned by a consortium of international banks. “With bad weather we could lose 10-15 per cent of sailings. We are being sacrificed on the altar of green energy.”
There are already several hundred turbines off that section of the UK coast but Mr Woodward said proposed developments would prevent captains taking alternative routes in bad weather, which is common in the area, and force cancellations instead.
Dong Energy of Denmark has received draft planning approval to build 207 turbines in the Walney extension off Cumbria, close to the Steam Packet’s Heysham route. But Mr Woodward said future plans would create even more disruption.
A proposed four mile gap between planned wind farms would simply squeeze busy Irish Sea traffic through it, increasing the risk of accidents, he added.
Chris Allen, a director at General Electric, the US industrial group, which makes parts for landing gear on the island, said: “We do not want increased disruption to ferry crossing and shipping lanes because they will impact manufacturing. We run lean manufacturing and rely on just-in-time delivery.”
Mr Allen chairs a forum of engineering businesses that employ more than 800 people on the island and provide parts for Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Airbus.
Jane Dellar, chief executive of the island’s chamber of commerce, said: “We have to ensure our lifeline links are not damaged.”
She said there were also fears about aircraft not being monitored as they come into land as the 222m high turbines interfere with signals. “Look at what happened to the Malaysian plane. We have nothing against green energy but it is about unintended consequences.”
The UK Planning Inspectorate, which handles big infrastructure projects, has said that Dong must get agreement from the National Air Traffic Service in the UK but the island is pushing for its own air traffic control service to have the same rights.
Mr Woodward said one of its two ships was a fast catamaran that is suspended in bad weather. Its other, the Ben-my-Chree, operates from Heysham to Douglas 24 hours a day at 98 per cent capacity. Longer journeys mean it misses its turnround time and cannot manage two return legs a day. The ferries carry about 600,000 passengers annually, 170,000 vehicles and about 1.5m tonnes of freight.
“The island operates on a just in time service. In two days the shelves would become empty of some products,” Mr Woodward said.
The Irish Sea is notoriously choppy, with half of days enduring Force 6 winds and two days a week reaching Force 8. Fog can also disrupt journeys.
John Shimmin, the island’s economic development minister, said he had raised the issue with London. “The current proposal causes us significant concern and we have made our case strongly.”
Centrica, which has a farm off Anglesey to the south of the island, said that its studies showed no adverse impact on shipping. However, it has put plans to build near the island on hold while it ensures “any proposals include mitigations where required to minimise any shipping route impacts to the Isle of Man”, it said.
Dong could not be reached for comment.
Mr Woodward is not hopeful. “We get trampled on on a regular basis by the UK government,” he said.
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