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Trawlerman breathe sigh of relief as fears over impact on their fishing grounds dissipate  

Credit:  By Claire Williamson | Belfast Telegraph | 02 December 2014 | www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk ~~

It’s the wind farm project that never got the chance to turn.

The energy farm could have provided up to a fifth of Northern Ireland’s electricity and – combined with two separate tidal stream projects – could have powered up to 300,000 homes.

Those behind the scheme had high hopes that the 600 megawatt wind farm off the coast of Ardglass in Co Down would provide the lion’s share of the power.

Headed by First Flight Wind consortium, made up of B9 Energy, DONG Energy and RES, the offshore wind farm planned to be operational by 2020 and leading the way in renewable energy.

DONG is also behind a £50m plant building wind turbines in Belfast, transforming the city’s port into a hub of renewable energy-related construction.

The Crown Estate is the owner of the UK’s seabed and has responsibility for leasing it out for renewable energy projects up to 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

It was back in October 2012 when a tender was launched to select a developer for the project.

First Flight Wind was chosen and all movements from that point were subject to a rigorous testing to gauge the impact on surrounding sea and landscapes.

It also had to take in to consideration the potential impact on fisheries, ports and harbours, protected sites and species.

But while hopes were high that this project could change the way Northern Ireland created energy with the added potential of reducing fuel imports and creating jobs, there were major fears about the potential impact on the local thriving fishing industry.

Concerns included the potential threat to fishermen’s livelihoods combined with added concerns about the look of the natural, beautiful fishing villages.

In Kilkeel, where the village revolves around the fleet and boasts some of the most productive fishing areas in Europe, there were fears for the area, which lands 50% of the entire UK langoustine catch.

The wind farm would have been on Kilkeel’s doorstep and could have been as little as 8km offshore and 40km wide along the Co Down coast.

But while fishermen remained concerned about the impact of offshore wind farms on their fishing stocks, they were open to the benefits of working with big energy firms, rather than against them.

Meanwhile, in picturesque Ardglass, the fishing community voiced their deep-rooted worries about the earmarked development, but while some locals worried what they would look like, for others it was the impact on their source of income.

They described the current climate as “very tough” for trawlermen to earn a living.

In a bid to protect their communities, environmental groups warned that careful consideration of the impact on habitats and species along the coast would be necessary.

And at the time, while the project remained in its very early stages, the director of First Flight Wind, Michael Harper, spoke of his hopes that the energy project would be able to create a big boost to the Northern Ireland economy.

In order to keep the public informed, in September 2013 a series of information evenings were held in a bid to relay the proposals.

But following consultation with the local communities and after the airing of the anxieties surrounding the threat to the fishing industry, in June 2014 Northern Ireland’s first major off-shore wind farm was scaled back, and it vowed to avoid key fishing areas. The scaling back meant that, by 2020, the project would have produced half of the energy than was previously thought. First Flight Wind said the scale of the project would “minimise potential impacts on shipping and commercial fisheries”.

In a further bid to alleviate concerns, First Flight Wind said it would “limit where possible” encroachment into important prawn fishing grounds.

However, it remained unclear how many turbines would be sited in the sea while the development was yet to secure planning approvals.

But the excitement around the project continued to build in February 2014, at a major Belfast conference, which heard that 2013 saw the highest levels of wind energy ever recorded here.

But those figures will now be shelved as the dream of renewable energy from the wind farms have been scrapped before the turbines even got near the water.

Source:  By Claire Williamson | Belfast Telegraph | 02 December 2014 | www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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