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They appear like majestic matchsticks on the horizon, 10km from the shoreline on the Arklow Bank. These wind turbines are the first, and still the only, operational offshore windfarm in Ireland.
Now four more projects, three off the east coast and one off the coast of Galway, have been given the go-ahead to apply for planning permission.
Together, if approved, they would produce enough green energy to power a third of Ireland’s demands.
The announcement brings Ireland a step closer to being less reliant on fossil fuels, which is seen as “a win” by environmentalists, but here’s the conundrum, how can it be done without upsetting the fragile marine life in the area?
Looking out at the turbines from the harbour in Arklow, Co Wicklow, Coastwatch’s Karin Dubsky is “sure there are risks”.
She is holding a mermaid’s purse in one hand (an egg casing for fish) and some dried yellow seaweed in the other.
“We know for sure that there are fish spanning grounds out there,” she says.
“And we know that if you dig out a big area and put rock armour into it and a wind turbine, that fish cannot lay its eggs there.”
She lifts the seaweed in her hand.
“We have far more biodiversity at sea than on land.”
“This might not look much, but these are millions of little animals living together, living on these sandbanks,” she says, gesturing toward the turbines.
Coastwatch is not anti–offshore energy and acknowledges the huge potential for Ireland, but insists Ireland needs to be “wise”, with independent monitoring of marine life around the sites and an “open transparency approach”.
Fisherman Tim Storey says they have noticed a difference in sea life in the area since drilling began
In Greystones, fishermen are unloading a day’s catch of welks from the Kish Bank, where an offshore wind farm bid has been successful.
Owner and skipper of Centurion Tim Storey says already they have noticed a difference in sea life in the area since drilling began to test the seabed on the Kish.
“On the two sites that they’ve been drilling, we seen a dramatic decrease in catch to the point where it’s not sustainable,” he says.
A catch has reduced from “50 to 100 kilos, minimum” to “5 kilos, and not much more”.
“Whether that (the sea life) comes back or not, we don’t know,” says the fisherman, “and they are not able to tell us”.
To illustrate the sealife, another fisherman Ivan Toole, shows RTÉ News a video he made, of a pod of dolphins swimming ahead of his trawler near the Kish Lighthouse.
According to Valerie Freeman of the Coastal Concern Alliance, these species of dolphin currently live where it is proposed to build one of the offshore developments.
“The big threat to marine mammals arises as a result of the impacts of noise on their hearing and consequently on their ability to echolocate, find food and communicate with each other,” explains Ms Freeman.
Ireland is obliged to ramp up offshore wind energy production by 2030, as laid out in the state’s Climate Action Plan.
CEO of Friends of the Earth Oisín Coghlan insists “it’s the best way to get off dirty, expensive, foreign gas and power our lives with clean, affordable, reliable Irish renewables”.
However, he believes consultation is key.
Mr Coghlan says: “We need to make sure local people are fully consulted during the planning process and that we protect nature around where we build the windfarms.
“I’m confident we can do that,” he adds.
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