A licence application to survey the Waterford coastline for the world’s largest offshore windfarm has caused fears among fishing and tourism sectors, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
Foreshore survey licence applications for three windfarms, including the largest offshore windfarm in the world, are ruffling feathers in Co Waterford.
In particular, an application by energy company Energia Renewables, formerly Viridian, to conduct feasibility surveys for turbines along the coast from Helvick Head to beyond Dunmore East is generating concern due to the size of the proposed project and its unprecedented proximity to shore.
Energia applied to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for a foreshore licence to survey for a windfarm that could generate 600MW to 1000MW: the UK’s Walney Extension, currently the largest offshore windfarm in the world, generates 659MW.
The Government’s new target of 70% renewable energy by 2030 as part of its climate action plan was accompanied by a comment that Ireland “will have to prepare now for a significant offshore wind capacity in our system,” when announced by Minister for Communications and Climate Action Richard Bruton.
However, it seems the winds of change are sometimes turbulent, with some communities on the south coast feeling under threat.
Trudy McIntyre, from Dunmore East, is married to Shane McIntyre, who fishes from Dunmore on his boat, the Jueast. She’s chair of the South East Regional Inshore Forum, representing inshore fishermen on the south coast.
Ms McIntyre said the fishing community was “blindsided”by the licence application, only finding out about it by chance.
She said lack of communication with Energia has led to a sense of fear among fishermen in Dunmore East, one ofIreland’s six major Fishery Harbour Centres, and Helvick Head, both of which would be impacted by the project.
“When you don’t have information, that can operate like misinformation,” she said.
“People are just looking at the map and saying, ‘oh my god, this is where I fish,’ so there’s a sense of panic.
“We only heard about this when the applications were lodged,” Ms McIntyre said.
“You must understand how huge this was: it was a complete and utter shock. It’s only in the last few weeks that people are realising how big these are going to be. The biggest wind turbines in the world.”
A PR representative forEnergia said the company had notified Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and An Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) on April 5
Ms McIntyre said the Inshore Forums she represents were founded in 2014 specifically to provide a line of communication to fishermen and that neitherthe Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, an enforcement body, nor BIM notified fishermen.
The scale of turbines being surveyed is very large.
Energia’s application is to assess the potential for either 125 195m turbines, or 50 260m turbines. For reference, the tallest occupied buildings in the country are Dublin’s Capital Dock at 79m and Cork’s Elysian, 71m.
The closest headlands to the westerly end of Energia’s proposed site is Helvick Head, which stands at 50m.
In its statement, Energia said that the foreshore licence application is for the surveying phase only, and that any future planning application for the project would come with its own separate environmental impact assessment and consultation with communities.
However, inshore fishermen have concerns relating to the surveying itself, Ms McIntyre said.
If a licence is granted, Energia proposes 10 months of work to begin in April 2020, to conclude the following summer, over 810km2 stretching from beyond Hook Head in Wexford extending to within 10km of Ardmore.
The schedule of works in the application calls for at least 130 boreholes of up to 70m into the seabed, exploratory ‘pits’, and cone penetration tests, and the use of echo sounding, sonar and vibrocore equipment.
Ms McIntyre said fishermen are concerned about the impact of the work on the seabed in an area containing fish and lobster spawning grounds, as well as regular sightings of marine mammals including humpback whale, fin whales, minke whales and species of dolphin, seal and porpoise.
“We have a beautiful part of the country here,” she said.
“It’s like a wildlife sanctuary all along the coast. I don’t think there’s enough data about what impact the sounds and vibrations are going to have on the fish. It will all impact the seabed.”
Longer-term fears also loom: “The inshore fishermen I represent have boats under 12m and can’t fish more than six nautical miles out, which is right in the middle of the windfarm.
“These small boats don’t have the luxury of travelling elsewhere to fish. Economically, it would be a devastation.”
Energia said it would engage a Fisheries liaison officer and hold meetings with the fishing communities if the foreshore licence was granted, “to gather information on existing fishing activities in the area and to determine the potential for interaction. Appropriate actions will be taken to avoid or minimise interactions with ongoing fishing activities in the area during the course of the surveys.”
Meanwhile, others have raised concerns regarding the Waterford coastline’s tourism-reliant economy, with the Waterford Greenway, the Copper Coast Unesco Geopark, and tourism hubs at Ardmore and Tramore all vital to the region’s economy.
Energia’s survey site is close to shore, ranging from just 5km from points at Helvick Head and Tramore to 15km, and could have a significant impact on the area’s natural beauty, some argue.
Speaking on local station WLRfm, Fianna Fáil councillor Eamonn Quinlan called the proposed project an “existential threat” to Tramore’s tourism-based economy in particular.
Waterford City and County Council made a submission on the basis of concerns for tourism during the public consultation phase.
Seven submissions from organisations and 37 from private individuals were made during a four-week consultation process for the foreshore licence application. However, some coastal residents say they weren’t aware of plans and have only heard of the project in recent weeks.
The public consultation phase invited submissions in the classifieds sections of the Irish Times and the Waterford News & Star for one day in July.
Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan, who comes from Tramore and sits on the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries, said she understands public anger about the lack of notification.
“I know there’s a feeling that the consultation process wasn’t sufficient to bring peoples’concerns in,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
“To my mind, when you’re talking about projects to this scale, public consultation is absolutely crucial for building awareness and public acceptance of a project like this.
“The public needs sufficient time and access to good information to engage in an informed way so they don’t feel they’re being kept in the dark. There should be public meetings with the applicant so they can really engage.”
Ms O’Sullivan said environmental, economic and social perspectives must be balanced.
“The Copper Coast, particularly since the development of the Déise Greenway, has been attracting large numbers of visitors,” she said.
“If this is done properly, it can actually be an asset to the area. It can help to develop infrastructure and could be good in terms of delivering jobs.
“The Government has committed to phasing out fossil fuels and using local renewable energy sources so this project fits into our climate commitments. This will pull us away from fossil fuels.”
Energia Group is owned by a multinational infrastructure investment manager called I Squared Capital, which manages €11.8bn of assets in energy,utilities and transport in north America, Europe and Asia.
The company said any electricity generated by the windfarm would be destined for the Irish grid. “The potential for directly exporting power to another jurisdiction has not been considered,” they said.
It’s not the only energy company engaged in south coast speculation: SSE Renewables Ltd has also applied for a licence to survey a 689sq km area about 25km off the Waterford and Wexford coastline, with landing points at Bunmahon, Co Waterford and Barrow, Co Wexford for a potential 800MW wind farm.
Most recently, DP EnergyIreland filed an application fora site investigation to assess a site extending from Waterford past Ballycotton towards Cork Harbour, 9.9km from shore at its nearest point, for a windfarm with a potential output of 720MW.
If all three projects come to fruition, it would ineradicably alter the coastline from Wexford to Cork, a newly founded community group, Waterford Offshore Wind Awareness, has warned.
Its spokeswoman Lia Ní Aodha, based in an Rinn, is editor of The Skipper, a commercial fishing journal, and a marine social scientist.
She said that the group was founded because locals felt there was not enough discussion of the potential impacts of a huge investment in wind power on the region.
“We’re not anti-renewables and we know we need to move away from fossil fuels,” Ms Ní Aodha said.
“But what we’re hoping for is discussion about how this shift can be achieved in ways that are socially and environmentally just and sustainable, rather than something that just suits large-scale developers and may not turn out to be sustainable at all.
“We were quite concerned about the proposed potential developments and also about the fact that most people in our community don’t know anything about them.”
The proximity of Energia’s proposed project is of particular concern, she said.
“This would be really, really close. The scale of it is difficult to imagine.
“There’s a report from 2009 that says anything within 10km of the shore has significant visual impact. This is 5km.
“It’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t have a knock-on impact on tourism and on the lives of local communities,” she said.
Ms Ní Aodha said it’s clear that now is the time to generate discussion about offshore wind projects, which may be perceived as less intrusive than land-based windfarms.
“I think there’s an idea that there’s no community out there and that it’s just a big bitof space up for grabs, but that’s fundamentally untrue,” she said.
“There are people out there who are fishing and whose fathers and grandfathers have fished there too. And fishermen are in a weak bargaining position when you consider how massive these companies are.”