CLARE is standing in front of an open goal but is kicking the ball towards the corner flag when it comes to securing investment for offshore energy.
Visual amenity must be protected off the Clare coast argued Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) as he called on Clare County Council to prepare “a robust submission” to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government moving the development area as outlined in the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) further offshore.
Recently published for public consultation which runs until April 20th, OREDP II is Ireland’s new national spatial strategy for the development of offshore renewable energy.
There has been “a significant level of assessment” undertaken to inform the identification of the broad areas of interest, Director of Economic Development with the Council, Liam Conneally stated. The Mid-West broad area has been identified off the West Clare coastline. Conneally said, “this area of interest is well within the current extent and indicative locations identified by many of the Offshore Renewable Energy companies currently at early-stage investigation off the Clare coastline”.
Council chiefs are to discuss the draft strategy with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communication this month, the Director confirmed. Following this, a cross-directorate submission will be prepared. He added, “Access to zero carbon energy from offshore renewable energy will be a USP for the west coast of Ireland in the attraction of future industries”. Presently the near coast area is defined as being within nine miles of Clare County Council’s legislation, anything beyond that is a planning matter for An Bord Pleanála.
Speaking at Monday’s Council meeting, Cllr Murphy commented, “The area of interest identified for offshore wind projects starts approximately 3km off the west coast of Clare, probably our most valuable tourism asset. The associated turbines are approximately the height of the Eiffel tower, and if developed this close to the shore will be extremely overbearing. The likelihood of challenges from local communities is very high with consequential delays in delivery and knock on impact on delivering against our 2030 target”.
A former fisherman, Murphy noted that the broad area of interest “is very heavily fished by the inshore fleet, for prawns, brown crab and lobster in particular. Our inshore fishermen and women will be rightly peeved due to the potential impacts on their activities. Again, the Department will be bringing a level of antagonism, and consequential opposition and delays, to the development of offshore wind by doing something it really doesn’t need to”.
Industry research would consider the 100m water depths of the suggested area as “too shallow,” the Kilkee man said and felt depths of 250m would be more appropriate. This presents much higher CAPEX and OPEX costs relative to those in a deeper depth range, “it will therefore be much harder to attract investors, again, placing another unnecessary blockage in the pathway of these developments and delivery against our 2030 offshore targets”.
He added, “The chill factor for external investors to get involved with these projects is already evident, both Simply Blue and ESB have lost significant investors in the past due to the pace of progress by the Government, and will be further exacerbated by the limitations of this area of interest, and likely risk the entire floating offshore wind development off this county”.
Murphy remarked, “We are standing in front of an open goal at the All Ireland Final, and deliberately kicking the ball at the corner flag. This council must make the strongest case possible to ensure that is avoided”.
Support was voiced by Cllr Shane Talty (FF) who seconded the motion and was educated on the meaning of USP. Offshore turbines “can have a huge impact on residential areas,” Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) said when backing the call to move them further offshore.
“Transformational things like this we need to get involved with and not kick to the corner flag, it’s hard enough to get in front of the goal in the first place. Assuming that all things are being considered by people removed from our area is a lesson, we cannot assume,” warned Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG).
Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) added, “I won’t use goal analogy but hope we won’t make a stupid mistake upfront and harm our important asset which is tourism. Having them further out won’t be a disincentive for the investment”.
Concluding the debate, Cllr Murphy said the intention of the plan to identify the areas best suited “has been completely missed, the broad areas of interest are not broad enough”.
Umbrage was also taken by the manner in which the public consultation has been managed. “I’d also like the Council to raise the matter of the decision to locate the public consultation events so far away from the communities most affected. It is utterly disrespectful that the department chose not to have any consultation event in West Clare, given the coast of Clare is one of only three areas of interest published. I would ask the CEO to raise this matter separately and directly with the Minister. State consultation with communities is almost always tokenistic, but in this instance, the Department haven’t even stretched themselves to that, it is quite simply unacceptable that the community most affected isn’t included in the consultation process”.