Sea bird protection plan clashes with proposed wind farm

Industry criticises Government failure to consult

Government proposed designation of a sea bird protection area clashes with a planned wind farm. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Government designation of a special protection area for birds in the Irish Sea clashes with plans for one of several offshore wind farms with which the State recently struck electricity supply deals.

Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, last week announced that Government planned to designate 230,000 hectares off the Dublin, Louth and Meath coasts as a special protection area for birds.

It is understood that the proposal could threaten the future of the North Irish Sea Array, a planned €1 billion-plus offshore wind farm, one of four recently awarded contracts to supply electricity following an auction run by regulators and national grid operator, EirGrid.

The area earmarked for special protection overlaps with the 500 mega watt project, posing potential planning barriers to the wind farm that industry figures say endanger its development.

READ MORE

Commenting on the news, Paul Doherty, director of Gavin and Doherty Geosolutions, an Irish firm that provides key engineering and consultancy services to the offshore energy industry, said “once again” such projects were finding themselves facing significant barriers.

Mr Doherty did not name the project but warned that its future “is now in peril before it even reaches the planning stage”. He added that it would not be the only one.

Government sees offshore energy as key to meeting climate change targets, including generating 80 per cent of electricity used here from renewable sources.

Eamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, hailed the award of contracts to the North Irish Sea Array and the other developments as a breakthrough for the Republic’s “offshore wind future” when they were first announced.

Project backers, Norwegian utility Statkraft and Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, said the offshore power plant could begin generating electricity in 2028 when the contract award was provisionally confirmed in May.

SuperNode to invest €40m in research to develop renewable transmission technologyOpens in new window ]

Statkraft said protecting the environment had been significantly considered at every stage of the North Irish Sea Array project.

The company added that it had undertaken years of ornithological surveys and assessments that confirmed the plan would not have a negative impact on the environment.

“We, therefore, look forward to engaging and working with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to achieve a positive outcome that will safeguard the environment while delivering clean, sustainable offshore wind energy for Ireland,” said Statkraft.

The Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government pointed out that all interested parties could make observations on or object to the proposal.

“The notice provides for a statutory, three-month period during which observations may be submitted in relation to the proposed designation,” said a statement.

Once that period has elapsed, regulations allow for a further three-month period during which “observations or objections to the proposed designation, based on scientific, ornithological grounds, may be submitted by interested parties,” the department added.

Mr Doherty argued that Government could have avoided the current situation if its agencies had engaged properly with the industry.

“While our sector fully supports measures to conserve habitats and protect seabirds, we urgently need cohesive thinking and real collaboration if we are to contribute towards the slowing of the global rate of temperature rise,” he said.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas