A lot has happened in the last 6 months regarding the Waterford coast and the Government’s offshore renewable energy (ORE) wind plans:

  1. Waterford coast set to be zoned for floating offshore wind.

In a recent policy announcement, the Government have indicated within the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan II (OREDP II) that the Waterford coast will be zoned for floating offshore wind farms. Floating technology allows wind farms to be situated in deep water far from the coast (22km+), minimising the impact on nature, tourism, fishing and other marine users. The plan aims to move towards a more state-led, planned approach to ensure the development of the appropriate technology in the appropriate places. It also aims to respect the need to work collaboratively with other sectors to ensure proper planning, while respecting the need to protect marine biodiversity.

The draft plan focuses on marine spatial strategy; proposing how the State will identify areas best suited for ORE in line with the principles of good maritime spatial planning. The opportunities for wind, wave and tidal energy in Irish waters have been assessed and certain assumptions have been made on the capabilities of these technologies.

Unfortunately, the Government envisages that construction of ORE infrastructure within this plan will only begin after 2030. The policy is out for public consultation now, make sure your voice is heard and complete the opportunity to feed back your opinion.

The deadline is 20th April. Further info is here.

We believe that this plan has ignored the potential for the rollout of floating wind technology in Irish waters between now and 2030 which leaves fixed-bottom foundations as the only alternative at his time. This a mistake as floating technology is being progressed in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, Wales, Portugal and Northern Ireland. Irish companies are at the forefront of many of these projects and continue to research and develop the sector. Over 80% of our offshore wind resources exist in water over 80 meters deep. It is imperative that Ireland embraces the floating wind sector and not just focus on current short-term targets.

While this policy indicates that the development of offshore wind is shifting to a more considered and sensible approach to what has been the case heretofore, we were shocked to learn that…

  1. Waterford will also be zoned for nearshore fixed-bottom wind farms in the coming months!

Two weeks after the policy announcement, the government also announced through the Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind that ‘the south coast’ will also be zoned for fixed bottom nearshore turbines sometime in 2023. The sudden announcement to zone the south coast is in response to the shortfall in electricity generation originally planned along the east coast in order to reach the 5GW target for offshore renewables by 2030

Image source: OREDP II

While describing floating wind turbine floating foundations as a ‘nascent’ (new) technology and completely ignoring its potential as a possibility in the short term (up to 2030), the Government has suggested that additional wind farms planned off the Wexford, Waterford and Cork coastlines will be built solely using fixed bottom foundations. According to the Government, this foundation type is limited to a maximum water depth of 60 meters meaning that the location of windfarms being assessed under this policy will be placed in shallower waters close to shore. The announcement has also identified a serious weakness in Ireland’s grid infrastructure which in its present state cannot carry the amount of energy being proposed in our government’s ’ambitious’ plans to make Ireland energy independent in the near future. The lack of a quality dispersed grid infrastructure now necessitates the building of two offshore substations somewhere along the Waterford/ Cork coastline which will allow the connection of either one large wind farm (700MW) or two smaller 350MW farms. No information is available regarding the exact locations of these substations.

The new OREDP II makes provision for the creation of Designated Maritime Area Plans (DMAPS). The plans are spatial maps which allocate areas of the maritime environment for different activities while protecting vulnerable areas from harm. These vulnerable areas include the environment, biodiversity and landscape. Until these maps are produced, ORE developments will be considered as part of the Government’s Phase 1 rollout which ignores floating technology and embraces nearshore fixed foundations.

The announcement has caused much frustration and is a complete turnaround from the Government regarding the rollout of offshore energy infrastructure. Policy is now driven by the lack of government ambition regarding floating foundations and underdeveloped grid infrastructure. Rather than siting offshore energy projects appropriately using current technology and environmental considerations, the locations will be, now, primarily driven by onshore grid availability. This flies in the face of proper EU marine spatial planning and is not an excuse to inappropriately site mountain-high turbines close to shore. The Government hopes to see these wind farms constructed before 2030. The prospect that our coastline will be industrialised and filled with large-scale turbines (up to 300 meters high) near and far is now very real. Several projects being planned off our coast are only 10km offshore. Public consultation for this phase will be announced later this year however it is proving difficult to get clarity from the Government on what degree of public consultation will occur regarding the zoning process.

  1. Multiple wind farm applications.

There are now 14 applications for offshore wind farms off the Waterford coast.

Three of the proposals; ESB Helvick Offshore, Energia North Celtic Sea and East Celtic Offshore Wind Park are proposed on fixed bottom foundations well inside 22km. Interestingly, SSE’s Celtic Sea Array is also proposed on fixed bottom foundations, but this project is planned around 25-30 km offshore. As an experienced ORE developer, SSE have already built and powered several windfarms with their most recent one using the deepest fixed bottom foundations ever constructed at almost 60 meters deep and 27km off the Scottish coast. Although the water depth 25-30km off the Waterford shore is around 65-70meters deep, the company have indicated that this is very much within their capabilities and being so far offshore will allow the harnessing of cleaner wind flows which in turn delivers a higher capacity factor and the generation of more electricity per turbine. We will watch how this project progresses, but such a proposal could be a way forward for Waterford.

  1. Please share this post with people who care about the Waterford coast. 

Please remember that Blue Horizon is not opposed to wind farms in general and is not adopting a NIMBY (not in my backyard) strategy. In fact, we want it all for Waterford; clean energy which generates benefit funds for local communities, the decarbonisation of Ireland’s economy and the development of Ireland’s energy security Waterford coast set to be zoned for offshore wind. This can be planned and executed in ways that are sustainable, environmentally friendly and sensitive with regard to the southeast coast.

In recent weeks representatives of one or more of the developers have been meeting community groups and public representatives regarding wind farms and community benefit funds. We all know the benefits of renewable energy but please remember that community benefit funds are generated as a result of developers partaking in the Government Offshore Renewable Energy Support Scheme (ORESS). The scheme is an auction-based system designed to guarantee developers a fixed price for their generated electricity over the lifetime of the project. In turn, developers will donate two euros for every MW/hour they generate which may lead to approx. 2-4 million euro in contributions per year based on a wind farm of the size planned off Waterford. This is a sizeable amount of money coming into our communities but do remember that the developers are not doing this of their own accord and these funds will be available no matter how far offshore the wind farm is located.

Offshore wind can be beneficial to our communities if planned for in the correct way. We must ensure the Government and planners know that the people of Waterford want what is best for our coast which is; large-scale wind parks to be sited in line with proper marine spatial planning guidelines and located at least 22km from shore as per recent developments in most other European countries.

It is time to make our opinions heard and act upon them in order to influence how policy and practice develop. Do write to your local councillor or TD and demand our coastline is protected for our future generations and not sacrificed as a result of poor government policy and handed to developers whose only concern is the generation of profit.

Please spread the word: