This week was a busy week mostly spent in the city which meant I did not get out to the sea much but still I saw more than I dreamed I would in a life time as child. Monday a single whale – a couple of tall, spiralling blows and a long, black, rolling back letting me know it was a fin whale. And all week there were dolphins nearly every time I took out the binoculars. When I was growing up beside the sea I never saw dolphins. We were not the most salty of seaside dwellers and I never knew how to look for them or that I was supposed to. I thought if they were around they’d be right in your face. Dolphins were totally technicolour and utterly exotic and as far away as you could get from dreary grey-brown Ireland. Most of my assumptions were of course influenced by the TV show Flipper…
“Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, ever so frightening, King of the Sea!!!!’ Maybe the frightening bit is just me because in fact bottlenose dolphins are thugs and would not think twice about beating you up.
But, as I have since found, there are dolphins galore off the Irish coast, predominantly common dolphins but quite a few bottlenose thugs too. I think January is my favourite time of year for whale and dolphin watching especially days like today which was grey, windless, dry and cool – though, not crisp. It was one of those days that had a muffled quality, the light diffused yet lingering, suggestive of all the light still to come so I went down to the cliffs again for a little bit as the light faded. Sure enough there were dolphins scattered about so I lay next to the cross for the boy who died in a fall here many years ago and watched for a while.
When I came back to the house I opened a parcel from my niece and godchild, the exceptional Charlie, who lives on the other side of the world. It was recently her 16th birthday and typically I have yet to send her a present. I usually get my act together by June. She has obviously decided to take matters into her own hands by sending me in a present instead (I like this development!). When I opened the packet out fell a beautiful charm bracelet and the first charm, cavorting among blue and crystal beads, a tiny silver dolphin.
If you see dolphins or whales be sure to report your sighting to the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group (IWDG) here.
I took a trip this week to the Donegal coast, about as far as you can get from here by road. My purpose was to attend a workshop but I added a couple of days to make a little break for myself, a rare chance in these times. I was first in Donegal over a quarter of a century ago with a pal who had access to a family holiday home on an island from which her forebears sprang. The house was small, and sat on top of a rock overlooking a wide beach. Back then I lived in the city and haunted its dark parts. I was permanently unhappy, struggling with it since my early teens. This trip into the northern light was a rare experience. Perhaps that’s why my friend invited me. That year the whole country was frozen over and the drive through the north was a wonderland of crystal trees and pristine white fields. Reaching Donegal town in early afternoon, a Garda crinkled his faded blue eyes at us and told us we’d not be going over the mountains that night. But we went anyway, creeping up the county and then skating the Toyota Starlet down the other side.
On arriving we were both overcome with the flu and with that and the freeze, our five days were spent doing jigsaws, taking short walks and drinking the whiskey we inviegled from the owner of the only pub we could reach on foot. Ireland was a small country back then. My friend had previously been banned from the house for taking a gang of pals out on a wealthy relative’s speed boat, inadvisedly kept unsecured. That night-time party trip up and down the coast with a boombox onboard, 80s pop music rising and falling, and rising and falling, as they zipped about, reached the ears of the cottages onshore, and was duly noted and reported back. So it was inevitable that the details of our alcoholic consumption would reach Dublin even before we dropped back the keys. It was just as well we were too much under the weather get into any trouble.
It helped that the weather itself was stunning despite the freeze. I remember one morning waking up, still smothering with the cold. I fetched myself a big mug of tea and a plate of toast and settled back, be-hatted, under my duvet. The blue sky outside the single glazed windows you could’ve cracked with a spoon and the freezing room was filled with light. And right there in that moment, so long ago now, everything was just right. I had everything I needed and it was enough.
It took longer than that to change my course but as I walked the beach this time I realised that visit was the start of something and I was grateful. Those moments have begun to accumulate.
Much of west Donegal looks like its been splattered with the vomit of a God who has ingested too many bungalows after a heap of pints of but I was pleased to see that the island still remains just about recognisable – its one narrow road still only has room for one car, the beach is still empty and even the tiny house we stayed in is unaltered, though it has since changed hands. I walked the wide beach and, when the rain moved in, as it does, I left, driving carefully on the narrow track. I stopped in a passing place to take a photo. A car coming towards me pulled in, nose to nose with my car, to allow another to pass. A man peered out at me. And I peered back. And I knew him from home. He was the first person I talked to when I was considering taking the leap back to college – another huge change for me – and he was my adviser on my final theses. I knew he had retired and moved to Donegal but to another part, far from this island. It was pure chance that he and his partner were out for a day trip, the first time in over a year. We chatted for a bit, both happy and stunned. Ireland is still small I suppose but though I try to rationalize the encounter it was hard not to think as I drove away that, yet again, everything was in its rightful place.
After I had finished my workshop, I went in search of an even more remote beach purely because it had the same name as the big beach at home. I found it at the end of a long winding track clinging to mountains and cliffs and bog. And it was unfamiliar and familiar too and I walked it and was happy. And then I turned the car around and came home for real.
The temperature dropped this week. Monday it was deliciously chill, the air like a knife pressed lightly to my cheek. Tuesday it was more like having big daggers stuck in my face. I still like that though, that sharpness. Lets you know you’re alive anyway. I have been taking my binoculars (or bins) out, in the hope of whales and I always keep my eye out for wildlife – stoats, badgers, weasels, frogs – but I never see them. I did get excited on Tuesday when I saw what I thought was a toad in the muddy margins but it turned out to be an old kitchen sponge.
The birds though, are a constant. In the fields, fat wood pigeons fed or basked in the early sun -for once it was not raining. The rooks, the jackdaws marched about and some chough, hoarsely called from the old barbed fenceposts at the cliff edge. Along the road the bright-eyed robins patrolled, two punky blue tit faffed and chattered – I love their furry yellow elbows! – and a busy-bottomed wren threaded her way in and out of a hedge. I had been worried about the local buzzard who I had not seen in his usual hawthorn – bent double by the south westerlies – but there he was on Tuesday, embraced in its thorns, staring morosely out at the opposite headland. Or pehaps looking for rats. A pair of curlew flew overhead as I walked. You’ll see them them a lot here in the cold weather, usually in a large flock. I spotted a snipe this week too, one afternoon in a field by the cliffs, which was a treat as I had not seen one in a few years.
One morning I startled four goldfinch out of a tree and they took off in their looping flight that suggests they are flying on sheer will power, rising and dropping and rising again. The more I watch the little birds the more I am in awe of them. They live at such intensity, their tiny wings, and hearts, and lungs, beating constantly as they search for food. Snug in my bed as the wind got up on Monday night I tried to imagine where they were all sleeping. The sparrows huddled in a cosy gang in a hedge maybe, the blue and great tits and stonechat with their partners. The wren, the robin, alone, deep in some gorse, clinging to precarious shelter. If you had to live like a bird you would know you’re alive then.
I did see whales this week too – or perhaps just one. A fin whale, given away by two or three blows, spotted due south from the cliffs on Tuesday morning. The following afternoon, as the sun set in a stunningly peachy sky over sea fading to white, I saw numerous groups of common dolphins travelling and feeding, dark fins cutting the silky seas. Here and there a boisterous little calf leapt clean out of the water. I reported them to the IWDG which I sometimes neglect to do. They, the IWDG, published a map recently which marked all the areas important for ceteaceans. The coast off Waterford was notably left blank which surprised me as this is a migration route. In not reporting sightings we are leaving ourselves open to developments that may not take into account our ecology. So I will report everything from now on.
Later, on the whale day, I drove further west with my sister to see if we could spot more whales but saw none. It was a beautiful day to look at the sea spread before us from one end of the county to the other. On our way home we stopped at one of the small beaches which my sister had never visited and walked the rocks and looked at limpets and barnacles. I told her how one of my friends, out on the tear in a pub far away to the north and west, realised, as he was getting cigarettes, that the illuminated picture on the front of the machine was in fact this very beach. Nature, it gets everywhere.
This is a start of a year-long, weekly series of picture posts from the Irish coast. Our coast has begun to change rapidly over the last 18 months or so. The area I live in, once rural, is daily becoming more unrecognisable. Development is inevitable but it makes me sad – why does it always have to be big, ugly, boastful houses lit like airports and surrounded by breeze blocks clad in fakery? Suburbia has crept up on us. On a wider scale, numerous windfarm developments look set to transform our coast onshore and offshore forever. But Coast Diary is not about those developments. It is meant as a record of the things that I cherish here – the birds and animals, the sea, the good neighbours – before it disappears. Every Saturday I will post a quick, A6 sketch with a few words. For those interested in more in depth information on the windfarms – particularly their impacts on nature – when I have something to share, I will post on wednesdays.
The last day of the old year, 2021, found me in Passage East on the Suir estuary checking out the report of a dead dolphin for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). I forget how nice the little beach at Passage is, perhaps because it is unfamiliar as I am not often there. The last time I was there, was to check out a dolphin that had stranded in the harbour last March. It was stuck in the mud and could not be reached. The current carcass – which is very old – could even be its remains. I was in Woodstown last week – also on the estuary – recording a dolphin carcass there. Reports of sightings and strandings have increased over the lockdowns, in part because people are outdoors more and becoming more interested in the environment. Other animals are washed up too. A rare leatherback carcass washed up in the autumn and seals occasionally are found. As a volunteer for the IWDG, normally I don’t ‘do’ seals but I will pass on reports to Seal Rescue Ireland so when a friend asked me to check on a seal at Newtown Cove on the Saturday before Christmas I readily agreed.
I was taken aback to find the overcast car park and cove packed with people and swimmers accompanied by a coffee van and a fellow on a guitar … at 9:15am! This mass flocking to the coast is another change the lockdown has brought that I find hard to get used to. I suppose some like the socialisation but while I do have a need for occasional rowdiness, I tend to go urban for it.
When I masked up and fought my way down onto the little beach, I was a bit bewildered to see people swimming with the now dead seal. The seal had been barely alive the previous evening and, as it was washing about in the waves, it was hard to tell what it died of. Perhaps illness or exhaustion. Winter seas can be tough on them. Some months ago a young seal trying to rest on Tramore’s main beach died after being repeatedly chased back into the sea by curious walkers and their dogs.
Well that was cheery. Let’s see if I come up with something happier next week. Happy New Year to all my lovely readers, old and new. Here’s to more connection in 2022.
In planning a post of our marine biodiversity, I had been envisioning a grid-like image representing all of our marine life so I was delighted to come across something called the The Sheldon Spectrum which suggests that the total mass of a marine population stays the same even as the individual size changes. So, even though a whale is trillions of trillions of times larger than a bacterium, its population size is smaller by the same order of magnitude, so the numbers even out. A grid image is the perfect way to represent this. To get more philosophical, one could wonder if the ordering of the squirmy, floating swimming, multicoloured, multilegged, finned, tentacly mass of sea life means there is some sort of intelligence at work…
With Ireland’s marine territory ten times the size of its land area, the waters surrounding Ireland are highly productive and provide a habitat for hundreds of species of invertebrates and fish including 35 species of sharks, 24 species of whales and dolphins, 192 species of echinodermata (starfish and sea urchins), 625 types of seaweed, 78 species of sea squirts, nearly 400 of ray-finned bony fish, 1,700 species of crustacean as well as hundred’s of species of sponges, anenomes and jellies. Oddly we only have 24 species of seabird but I suspect one of those species covers about a million different types of gulls.
The small amount of reading of environmental surveys for windfarm developments I have done so far seems to suggest they focus on only a few species – one survey seemed to only account for two – the harbour porpoise and the grey seal – with most other species, larger ones anyway, disregarded because they are ‘migrants’. This would see the imposition of another sort of system, one that excludes rather than includes, that reduces sea life affected by ignoring the organic interconnectedness suggested by our picture grid and favouring an artificial seperation of species from their environment. However I may be unfair in this early judgement and need to read on. I will report in the new year. In the mean time, I have listed the names of some of the creatures who are part of the vast biodiversity of our shore below in no particular order. Most have been chosen for their descriptive or entertaining names..
…bell-shaped medusae, sprat, mackerel, cod, corkwing wrasse, blue shark, grey seal, common seal, fin whale, humpback whale, harbour porpoise, blue ray limpet, cuttlefish, brown crab, bottle nose dolphin, starfish, sea urchin, jewel anemone, ragworm, strawberry anemone, barnacle, kelp, bladderwrack, limpet, whelk, cockle, leafscale gulper shark, mussel, periwinkle, dilisk, herring gull, shag, cormorant, black backed gull, jackdaw, chough, kestrel, peregrine falcon, clun tunicate, stonechat, gannet, common gull, common stingray, undulate ray, common skate, heron, oystercatcher, noctiluca scintillans, daisy anemone, deadman’s fingers, spurdog, basking shark, sea lettuce, seven armed seastar, conger eel, sunfish, red boring sponge, yellow tit sponge, crumb-of-bread sponge, feather star, sea cucumber, Emiliania huxleyi, serpent’s table brittle star, oyster, scallop, left-handed hermit crab, puffin, broken-backed shrimp, Chinese mitten crab, spider crab, green sea turtle, sand hopper, lesser cylinder anemone, sand flea, pistol shrimp, bamboo worm, common lobster, soldier crab, gutweed, European green crab, one-spotted water louse, blood red mysid, goose neck barnacle, light-bulb sea squirt, kittiwake, smooth sunstar, sea potato, barrel jelly fish, Portuguese man of war, by-the-wind sailor, zig zag coral, sea grape, moon jelly, compass jellyfish, montagu’s stellate barnacle, pea urchin, Atlantic hagfish, European river lamprey, otter, spiny dogfish, ghost catshark, thresher shark, porbeagle, thorny skate, small-eyed ray, common dolphin, striped dolphin, large eyed rabbit fish, guillemot, great northern diver, stormy petrel, narrow nose chimaera, firework anemone, European sea sturgeon, ailis shad, pilchard, European anchovy, muddy arrow tooth eel, small mouth spiny eel, tench, gudgeon, stone loach, Murray’s smooth-head, hawksbill sea turtle, barrel-eye, sea trout, arctic char, Irish pollan, sparkle anglemouth, constellationfish, Irish moss, threelight dragonfish, blackfin waryfish, sharpchin barracudina, john dory, Norway pout, poor cod, blue ling, hollow snout grenadier, Bean’s bigscale, orange roughy, pudgy cusk eel, Spanish shawl, Jeffrey’s goby, worm pipefish, bullet tuna, bluefin tuna, largehead hairtail, silver scabbardfish, plaice, sole, flounder, turbot, brill, Norwegian topknot, thicklip grey mullet, thin-lipped grey mullet, montagus’s blenny, wreckfish, blackbelly rosefish, tub gunard, white eelpout, black seasnail, monkfish, boarfish, risso’s dolphin, minke whale, sei whale, leathery sea squirt, tigger pod…I could go on…
Images are a mix of my own photos and drawings along with images downloaded from the internet, mostly Wikipedia, but some from Birdwatch Ireland, National Geographic, and others. For attribution, please use the contact form on this blog. I will be back next year with a post on how the impact on marine life is surveyed. Have a good December all.
Its been a hard week globally, nationally and (most importantly!) personally and, against the backdrop of my increasing understanding of the impact of wind power, I have reassessed my plan of posting my research journey. While a few people have found my posts useful and shared them (thank you!) and some more have been indifferent, or silent anyway, the most vigorous commenters – not many to be fair – are if not negative then pointlessly argumentative. The hard bit is that it has not come from those who hate (are frightened by) wild spaces or wildlife but from the conservation or environmental side.
The most disturbing was an Irish conservation group on Twitter, a group I had admired in one of my previous digital incarnations. In the only comment I got on any of my posts there, and quite out of the blue, they lectured me for the term ‘floating windfarm’* on a post’s featured image. When I engaged with them they accused me of spreading lies, refused to provide alternative terminology, would not tell me where their writing on wind energy is (if there is any) and implied I was at fault because I was researching windfarms long after they had. And this was only after they had looked at a picture on the blog from a post that had nothing to do with floating turbines. Jesus wept.
Then they read the post. Their response was…
‘Yeh, we read your “blog” 🙄’.
Including the quotes and the eye roll. Then they blocked me. No one’s getting conservation confused with conversation in that group then…
*They don’t like the term floating because its ‘lies!’ and all turbines are bad and we are not allowed talk or learn about them. Or something.
Even mild rebukes from “environmentally-friendly” (goddamn now I’m using “quotes” )people are not informative but vague and general “you will hardly see the turbines, the sea life will be fine, we have no choice” or – as with the Twitter Twats – nit-picking. Those arseholes are just the more shouty edge of a large wedge – most people just don’t want to know. While I am starting to appreciate the enormity of the changes about to be wrought and the desire to look away from it all, I find this drive to shut down conversation unsettling.
Am I giving up? No, but I don’t believe any more posts right now will do anything except disturb the comfortable and I just don’t have the time to deal with other people’s crap. Considering my deeply embedded misanthropy, I have done well to get this far. Time for a regroup. There’s enough information in the previous posts for the interested to think about so after next Saturday’s post – a list of our marine life – I will take a break to do some reading about environmental impacts and how they are measured and, in the new year, if I think a post on that will be useful, I’ll do one then.
For the last thoughts on what wind farms consist of, below is some information about onshore substations which connect wind farms to the national grid. Some questions might be – How many will there be in Waterford and Cork? Will one service all proposed wind farms? How big an area will a substation take up? Do we get a say in where they are built? Who builds them?
No don’t tell me. Go and ask someone involved in such a project if you’re interested.
The wind farms proposed for Waterford currently make up 5.6 GW The diagrams below show how things are connected up.
Below is an example of a substation.
…is a 950MW wind farm 22km off the Scottish Coast. The substation, around 25km inland in farmland is an 85,000sq ft new build and includes road improvement works. The developers introduced elements to help in blend into the Aberdeenshre countryside including painting buildings green and planting trees.
Today I am harking back to last Saturday’s post on the planned high voltage cable that will connect us to France. I thought it would be interesting to visually compare the developments at Waterford with one in Brittany. The two areas likely have differing geography and limitations but the French area, while maybe not as windy, seems to be a less problematic location for construction and maintenance. The French windfarm could fit into half the planned survey area off Waterford10 times over or more – 40%+ usage is predicted for our survey sites. So they tell us. There is one other 270 MW floating wind farm planned for the south coast of Brittany.
Wondering if there was a reason for the difference in what is planned for the respective coasts, I went looking for previous objections to wind farms in the Brittany area. Over a decade ago, local tourism, environmental, and monument protection groups at Mont Saint-Michel in France mounted legal bids to stop the construction of THREE wind turbines within sight of Mont Saint-Michel, but by 2011 all had failed. Their last hope was their UNESCO status. They won a legal battle in 2012 on that basis and the plan was withdrawn. In comparison, the whole of the Copper Coast is a UNESCO Global Geo Park. If even half of the wind farms go ahead here it will mean HUNDREDS of turbines, not just THREE. Food for thought.
The St. Brieuc wind farm (marked in red on the above map) is the biggest planned for France so far. 50km west of Mont Saint-Michel, at 496 MW and with 62 turbines it is smaller than any proposed for Waterford. It is set to be operational in 2023. There have been objections to Saint Brieuc, the last of which was quashed in 2020. The fishing community in Jersey, 40km off, is now saying the Saint Brieuc wind farm is already putting pressure on them and french fishing communities have staged protests.
Early this week [May 2021] Alain Coudray, president of the Côtes-d’Armor fisheries committee, warned the government through local news media that “the fight has only just begun, on land and at sea, actions will multiply so that the State understands that it is time to go green with its heart , by taking into consideration the uses and the society which define the territory and in a desire to respect them and the environment.”
All this is to give people an idea of what we are up against. France has had over a decade’s start on us. While they won an early victory for their UNESCO site, they are now losing battles. The climate has changed – in more ways than one – and governments will be under a lot more pressure now than they were 10 years ago. Developers like Energia are feeling safe enough that they do not make it a secret that they want to build close to our coast to save money – which will presumably be passed on to the American investors that own Energia.
But wind energy is not a cure-all. Take the supergrid for instance. It is intended to offset the unpredictable nature of wind but it seems that the more of our power is made up by renewables, the more unpredictable it may become and it is possible it will lead to massive power outages, like the one in the UK in 2019. That was blamed on a lightning strike but it seems that a nascent dependency on windpower may have contributed because wind power is less effective as a “shock absorber” to shifts in supply and demand. I would think also that wind farms getting bigger and bigger adds to this risk too.
So no one really knows if this is going to work. Some will say we have no choice but to opt for wind but I can’t help thinking, yet again, that the best approach to such an unpredictable power source is community or even individually owned and operated turbines or other wind harvesters, of which there are a few different types in development. But we need some substantial changes in planning frameworks.
But this juggernaut that is industrial level wind investment is gathering speed. Possibly the best we can expect here in Waterford is to get these wind farms pushed further offshore. It will take a fight but we do know it’s possible. Shell has just bought into a floating wind farm 35km off the coast of Clare (we really will be surrounded) and Clare is one of the best places in the world for big wave surfing as we know. If they can do it there, they can do it here.
I still want to look at the impact of cable routes, their surveying and construction, and landfall as well as the construction of substations. And, after that, it will be a few posts on marine life and how the impact on it is measured. And finally a look at our power usage and see what we as individuals can do to reduce the need for data banks which are expected to guzzle nearly a third of Ireland’s energy by 2029. I hope that will take me up to Christmas when I’ll finish this series. If you read one other article this week, make it the one linked directly below…
NOTE: Images here are impressions of a European supergrid rather than actual plans though they do tend to plot the same routes. I suspect Brexit is the only event to have changed some of the options. I am not sure there’s a concrete plan, rather I imagine the grid will progress depending on planning opportunities
Here’s a little on what I’ve learned since last Saturday’s post on the interconnector between Ireland and France. It is real and not only that, it is part of a supergrid that was first mooted at least 20 years ago. It seems to be an accepted fact in the wind energy world because the very reason for the existence of a supergrid is to offset the unpredictability of the wind, to make it feasible. When the wind is blowing here others benefit, when it’s not, then we get our power from elsewhere. But as pointed out here, the amount and size of wind farms planned for little old Ireland as opposed to big old France, for instance, tell a different story. As a friend said to me…
“I would eat all my hats if we get anything flowing this way down the cable.”
And that’s the crux of the problem, it’s not wind energy or development per se – many of us I am sure are pragmatic enough to know we have to make sacrifices – but we just don’t have anyone to tell us what’s going on or what we have to give up. As a community we have no agency at all.
Re: wind energy, you might, like me, at this point, start to ask why billions upon billions of euros/dollars/pounds and decades of effort have been invested in wind energy – which needs a utopian electric grid to operate properly – instead of for instance the tide – which reliably comes in and out twice a day. I imagine it has something to do with lack of imagination (windmills ain’t new) and the human propensity for building big phallic objects. (The tide people are working away, by the way, but seem to be moving slowly because they are worried about chopping up animals with their underwater turbines. I like them already…)
Anyhoo, this supergrid – and others like it – would connect multiple countries by high voltage cables underwater. High voltage because it’s the only way to keep the power current (as it were) and underwater because it has proved too difficult to build them on land because of borders, politics, and because pesky people don’t like them and object. The good thing about planning out in the sea is that, and I quote…
“Even though it is technically new, it [the supergrid] can be done without seeking planning permission from anybody apart from the Government, a Government who has already demonstrated strong commitment to offshore wind.”
This is from a 2013 blog post from a company called Mainstream Renewable Power. I don’t think they have much to do with our projects – yet – but they have been working in Africa and Chile, both developing countries/continents and have an ISO certification for Ireland. Interesting that. Maybe we are we third-world now? Something else they didn’t tell us.
But the political problems that came with an onshore grid still exist with the offshore grid: who runs it/pays for it/benefits from it/maintains it? I suspect the Green Party has a Mary Poppins/Coca Cola ad ideal of us all sharing the load. If we shoot for the moon we may end up among the stars, right? Except that the ‘stars’ most of us will end up among will be gigantic turbines while marine life may be seeing different types of stars. Real-life experience of the world in general and distrust of Irish governance in particular, suggests something disastrous this way comes.
So. The planned wind farms here on the Waterford coast are part of a huge, global project made up of many different elements. Few perhaps can see how it will all pan out, but some, the developers, for instance, have a good enough idea of what’s in progress, politically and scientifically, to take a gamble.
What we need – what we needed – is a strong government to speak for us and also tell us what’s going on. Oh for some Direct Democracy! Referenda should be obligatory for decisions on infrastructure. We should have been kept in the loop and we weren’t and now it may be too late to stop a lot of this. But it’s not too late to influence the location of these developments – as the French did at Mont St. Michel – or to ask questions…
Why build more wind farms than we need here? How can this be an optimal location with a small population and all the wind farms being ‘of necessity’ planned so close to shore? Is the offering up of our immediate coastline a cost-saving exercise to attract developers to a non-optimal site? Why are developers telling us our power won’t go to other countries when that’s been the plan all along? Why develop a plan for 100s of turbines in a UNESCO heritage area to help power communities that refused to have their UNESCO heritage areas blighted by 3 turbines (Mont St. Michel, 2012)? Why don’t the people we elected tell us what is happening here?… and any other questions you can think of for yourself.
It would be good to be told exactly what this will cost us.
The Green Party is having an information session on wind this evening, Wednesday, November 16th, 2021, at the Park Hotel in Dungarvan Co.Waterford at 7:30pm.
Did that get your attention? Yes, Eirgrid are planning a 500 metre wide 500km cable route (35km in Irish coastal waters) to France from Youghal for which they are going to pay two-thirds of the cost (after grant aid), with one-third being paid by France. It is usual for the cost, but not the profit, to be passed on to the end-user. From Eirgrid’s application…
“The proposed Celtic Interconnector, which is the subject of this Foreshore Licence Application, involves the pre-lay installation works, cable installation works, operation, and periodic maintenance of a submarine electricity interconnector between Ireland and France.”
The cable will have a life span of 40 years. Thats’s twice as long as the life span of the turbines.
This project has been underway since 2019 – planned since 2011 – with 4 or 6 public consultations taking place in east Cork where the cable makes landfall. There seem to have been no consultations with the larger community of the south or southeast, for whom the implications of this, when taken together with the other planned developments, are fairly massive. And what are the implications?
Well it looks like much of the wind farm development planned for our coast may be for private profit. They, the wind farms, are set to produce far more than we need and this interconnector cable will allow our (very) near shore proposed wind farms to power France and by extension, the landmass of Europe.
While the landfall at Youghal may have impacts on the beaches, the rivers Nore and Barrow and Blackwater, including the estuary, Capel Island and Knockadoon Head Nature Reserve, Ardmore and Ardmore Head among other areas that’s just the landfall end of the 500km cable. We know already that invasive surveying needs to take place for cable laying and this could be anywhere from 1km to 4km wide along the whole 500km route. And of course there’s the impacts of the 6 or 7 other windfarms, the survey of those areas and their 12 possible cable routes.
The French Connection will theoretically work both ways – i.e. we can get power from France too. But along the 2,700 kilometers coast of Brittany, which has a population of nearly 5 million, there are only two wind farms proposed: the Saint-Brieuc wind farm, 16km offshore, which, when it becomes operational in 2023, will have a total capacity of 496 MW, capable of powering 835,000 homes and a floating 270MW (max) wind farm planned for the south coast of Brittany. As Waterford and Cork counties have a combined population of 600,000, while the seven proposed farms have an output of 5600 MW (5.6 GW) it is likely then most of the power will be heading one way only: from Ireland to France. This is, incidentally, why we are paying the lion’s share of the cost for the cable – because we supposedly get the profits from the sale of our power. I suspect the profit won’t make it as far as the end-user even though the cost will.
(Speaking of costs, wind farm costs are continuing to soar because of supply chain bottlenecks. As I currently(pun half intended) understand it, this is the result of only a few companies having invested in making components for wind energy ergo the demand is higher than supply so the price goes up. But that, along with the environmental impacts will have to wait for another post).
Re the French cable, it’s worth remembering that Energia in their public consultation less than a month ago, replied to a question about whether the power generated at Waterford would be used overseas with a definite no. I suppose they could argue that there are no plans to send energy abroad but if a 500km cable just happens to be developed, well sure they’d be mad not to use it right? But there’s two (more)things worth noting here:
Public consultations mean very little. Don’t expect real answers.
That it is likely we are looking at a project of gargantuan proportions with each element kept seperate, publicly at least, until it is too late to lodge any reasonable objections.
It may be that the turbines, being prone to shut downs – when it gets too windy, when the energy company decides to cap output, when there’s maintenance to be done – may be the things that spin least in this story.
There are links to more details below and I will be trying to make sense of this on the blog over the next while. Thanks to Tripe and Drisheen for the heads up. Give them a follow, they are independent journalists in a world where the media are owned by Big Biz.
Meanwhile the Green Party are holding a session next Wednesday in Dungarvan…
For those of you in despair or who just don’t want to know about such portentous events, I will be starting a diary of our coast with illustrations next year. We might as well record it and enjoy it while we have it.
Today we’ll look at the turbines. For the purpose of this post, I’ll divide turbines into three components: Foundation, Tower, Blades. But first here’s an image showing the overview of an offshore wind farm which I thought might be useful.
Foundations take up a quarter to a third of the cost of constructing a wind farm and their feasibility is the making or breaking of a project. There are several types of Foundations – Gravity bases, Suction Bucket Bases, Monopile, Tripod, and Floating (which SSE and DP energy are planning for Waterford and Cork respectively). Today I’ll cover Monopile Foundations in a little detail as they are most likely for near shore turbines in Waterford. I include a little on Jacket Foundations too as they can act as artificial reefs which is often cited as an advantage. The floating systems we will leave for another time.
Monopile is a single foundation inserted into the ground or seafloor and are roughly the same diameter as the tower. They are used closest to shore and will likely be what Energia and others are considering for the Waterford Coast. Monopiles have a simple design that installs quickly. Disadvantages are that installation noise can disorient, injure or kill marine life sensitive to pressure waves and wind, wave and seismic loading can cause early fatigue damage to the structure if it is not accounted for during installation.
Jacket foundations are used for turbines further offshore and I don’t believe they are proposed for any Waterford wind farms. The larger surface area of the lattice configuration may provide an artificial reef location, providing a new habitat for local species though it also may allow invasive species to establish and spread. Installation requires pile drivers the noise of which may injure or kill some marine life. Changes to local water patterns may be detrimental to native marine ecosystems.
Towers: Turbine towers are made from tubular steel and come in sections, usually three. They are easy enough to recycle. There. That was fast.
Blades: The bigger the blades are the more energy they generate. GEs Haliade X, which is likely to be considered for Waterford, is now being fitted with blades (made in Cherbourg) over 100 metres long. Turbine blades are made from fibreglass (older blades) or carbon fibre (newer blades). This means they are light and strong but it also means they are hard to recycle. This is becoming an issue now as the first generation of wind farms reach the end of their lifespan (wind farms currently last 20-25 years before they are decommissioned). There are experiments with converting the blades into useable substances, for instance into pellets to use in concrete or as glue, but the energy required for such transformations can be an issue.
Some people are getting creative. In Denmark, bike shelters are being made from turbine blades as are a number of playgrounds in the Netherlands. However, a lot of old blades are buried in places like the turbine graveyard, by the North Platte River in Casper, Wyoming in the U.S. Between last September and this March, it became the final resting place for 1,000 fibreglass turbine blades. Here in Ireland, UCC are looking at using parts of turbines for a Greenway bridge but how many old blades a country the size of Ireland can dispose of may be an issue. Perhaps we could live in them? As a non-home owner I would certainly consider it!
I have read elsewhere that there are experiments with lighter fabric-based skin on frames but I am not sure how that is developing. I’ll look at alternatives to the traditional windmills on which the turbine is based – which having been in use for 1000s of years are not really as innovative as they are made out to be – in another post.
I think I’ll start looking at impacts on wildlife, what they are and how they are measured, next Saturday…