A County Down fishing chief has expressed his concerns about a new wind farm proposal planned to run down the coast stretching from the mouth of Strangford Lough to Carlingford positioned several miles out to sea.
In signing of agreements for the 600MW offshore wind project, NI Energy Minister Arlene Foster also welcomed the 200MW tidal development scheme in Northern Ireland’s first offshore renewable energy Leasing Round which will be located off the North coast.
The Crown Estate, which grants seabed lease development rights for offshore renewable projects, announced that agreements have been signed with First Flight Wind Limited, Tidal Ventures and DP Marine Energy Limited of Ireland and DEME N.V. (Dredging, Environmental and Marine Engineering) of Belgium.
Minister Foster said: “This announcement by The Crown Estate represents a major milestone for Northern Ireland. I am greatly encouraged by the progress made to date to develop our offshore renewable resource and that these key companies want to invest in our waters.
“The development of offshore renewables is an excellent opportunity for Northern Ireland in so many ways – in energy, security and diversity; climate change mitigation; a contribution to the Executive’s 2020 targets. It will also add to the business supply chain opportunities for local companies over the next few years as these projects come on stream.”
Note of Caution From Fishermen’s Chief
NIFPO Chief Executive Dick James added his words of caution to the windfarm development off the County Down Coast. He said: This windfarm will be build on the edge of the prawn and scallop grounds. That is an annual industry of over £4 million per annum for Ardglass. The scallop fishing picks up in November when the prawn season dies down.
“The local trawlers will likely not be able to fish with their mobile gear around the wind turbines as in other windfarms they tend to be connected up by cables.
“Even the crab fishery off our coast here is a £1 million a year industry with some of the live crabs going to local producers for further value added production. There is a significant lobster fishery too.
“As far as I can tell, there is no history of compensation being paid to fishermen. The windfarm development may employ a few fishermen but the main effort will be driven from Belfast harbour so will likely mean that the local ports including Ardglass will see little offshoots.
“One big concern we have is over safety. This windfarm will inevitably pose a marine hazzard to shipping although it is positioned well off the main merchant shipping lanes. Safe access to the three fishing ports in all weathers is vital for the safety of the crews.
“We look forward to meeting the representative from the Crown Estates to discuss the issues and hopefully they can be minimized.”
Local Stakeholder Consultation Next Says Crown Estate
The Crown Estate has appointed a liaison officer to work closely with the fishing industry in Co Down and a spokesperson for the Crown Estate also added that they were very much concerned to minimize the impacts on the fishing industry.
It is understood that although a designate area has been zoned off for development, that only a third of it will be used.
Rob Hastings from The Crown Estate said: “”I am delighted that we have announced the successful bidders for the Northern Ireland Offshore Wind and Tidal Leasing Rounds. We’re very pleased to achieve this important milestone, and will continue to work closely with Northern Ireland Executive and developers to progress projects and attract investment, with the aim of helping meet Northern Ireland targets on renewable energy production.”
The next stage in the process will involve the developers engaging and consulting with local stakeholders as they undertake the Environmental Impact Assessments of their projects to secure the statutory marine licences and electricity consents when The Crown Estate would offer a full lease. Projects could be expected to start actual development stages from 2016/ 2017 onwards.
Minister Foster said: “Offshore renewables are about innovation, growth and opportunities. As costs and security of supply of non-renewables remain unpredictable and ever increasing, the economic and environmental benefits of renewables and offshore renewables become clearer.
“Energy developments – and critically a robust and flexible grid infrastructure to support them – must be seen as investments now to deliver long term benefits and savings for NI businesses and consumers.
“I see offshore renewables as a key contribution to the decarbonisation of our energy mix from 2020 onwards and today’s announcement signals the next stage in that process.”