Sunday 17 February 2008

Wind farm plans should look to EU

ENERGY Minister Eamon Ryan has announced substantial price supports for offshore wind farm developers which he says will bring us into line with incentives in other EU countries such as Germany.

While supporting the minister's drive for alternative energy, can we hope that before he hands over huge sums of taxpayers' money, he will follow the lead of Germany and other EU countries and legislate to protect our marine environment in the face of the unprecedented industrialisation of our seas which offshore wind farms represent?

Germany and the Netherlands have banned offshore wind farms within 22km of their shores in order to protect the wildlife and scenic amenity of the coastline.

Spain and France have refused to permit any offshore wind farms prior to the introduction of new legislation designed to protect their coastline and tourist industry.

The only EU countries to, so far, build any sizeable offshore wind farms are UK and Denmark where around 700 megawatts of offshore windpower, 80pc of the world's total, has been installed.

Both countries have introduced new legislation to ensure that development is properly controlled.

In addition, those countries have carried out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of their coastlines, in accordance with the EU Directive to pick the most suitable places for offshore wind farm development, taking into account bird life, marine life, other marine users, coastal scenery, and so on.

Contrast this with the situation in Ireland.

Here, no marine planning exists. Instead developers are being allowed to pick out the most profitable locations in Irish waters for massive proposed developments

The EU SEA directive is being ignored and no independent assessment has been made of the cumulative impact of development on our economy, coastal scenery and wildlife.

No new legislation has been introduced. Instead offshore wind farm development is controlled by the Foreshore Act drawn up in 1933 before large scale industrial development at sea was envisaged.

This undemocratic legislation, designed primarily to regulate the removal of sand from the seabed, confers unlimited powers on the Minister for the Marine to award foreshore leases for construction off our coasts without the statutory involvement of local authorities and with no right of appeal.

This legislation has allowed two successive ministers, Frank Fahey and Noel Dempsey, to permit two of the biggest offshore wind farms in the world, 11 km off the scenic coast of Wicklow.

The resulting vast industrial complex, totalling 1620 megawatts (double the total amount of offshore wind power installed worldwide) will consist of 420 massive turbines each as high as a 35-storey building, dominating the entire coastline from Bray Head to Wexford.

Is the Wicklow coastline any less precious than the coastlines of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark?

Are our birds and marine life not entitled to the same protection? Before Mr Ryan awards any EU level subsidies to offshore wind farm developers, we call on him to honour his party's pre-election commitment to reform the Foreshore Act 1933 and introduce EU levels of protection for our marine environment and coastal scenery.


Irish Independent

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