Winds of Change: Waterford v. France, French fishing protests and Shell surfing big waves in County Clare.

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 They won a legal battle in 2012 on that basis and the plan was withdrawn.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.

© Punto Studio Foto AG – Fotolia.c
Mont‑Saint‑Michel bay

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.”

French fishing vessels around the wind turbine installation vessel Aeolus during a May 7 (2021) protest at the Saint-Brieuc offshore wind project site off the Brittany coast. Maritime Prefecture/ATLANT command-in-chief photo.

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.

The Power Pod, due to be on the market soon. Image fromEcoHome https://www.ecohome.net/guides/3605/small-wind-turbines-for-homes-which-are-best/

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.

Aileens off County Clare. Photo: Mickey Smith.

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…

Tripe and Drisheen have published a very interesting article including interviews with residents of the area where the interconnector is making landfall in Youghal and with the people of Helvick. Check it out here…

See you next Saturday (and if I find anything interesting, maybe Wednesday too).

Links

https://www.iberdrola.com/about-us/lines-business/flagship-projects/saint-brieuc-offshore-wind-farm#:~:text=Saint%2DBrieuc%3A%20Iberdrola’s%20first%20large,Saint%2DBrieuc%20Bay%2C%20France
https://www.offshorewind.biz/2021/08/02/drilling-resumes-at-saint-brieuc-offshore-wind-farm/

https://www.nationalfisherman.com/national-international/french-fishermen-mount-protests-against-offshore-wind

https://www.ft.com/content/8b738eac-c024-11e9-89e2-41e555e96722

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49305250

https://www.thejournal.ie/electricity-energy-demand-ireland-data-centres-climate-emissions-5566004-Oct2021/#:~:text=The%20demand%20from%20data%20centres,fabric%20of%2021st%20century%20living%E2%80%9D.

https://www.ecohome.net/guides/3605/small-wind-turbines-for-homes-which-are-best/

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/energy-and-resources/shell-takes-stake-in-simply-blue-floating-wind-farm-1.4732280

Windy Wednesday: The Supergrid

From SolarFeeds.com, 2013. Link 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.

Vision of Trans European ” Supergrid ” . Source: Airtricity.  2013. From Perspectives for offshore wind energy development in the South-East Baltics, January 2013,Publisher: Klaipeda UniversityISBN: 978-9955-18-723-3

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…)

Image: Friends of the Supergrid. Source Reuters, Aug 1, 2014. (Note turbines off Brittany and in the Bay of Biscay).

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.

‘Looks like we’re surrounded..’From Super Node. A projection of a 2050 electrical Utopia. Link below.

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.

Next post is Saturday

Links

https://www.energyireland.ie/developing-the-super-grid/
https://www.mainstreamrp.com/insights/supergrid/
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264422192_Perspectives_for_offshore_wind_energy_development_in_the_South-East_Baltics
https://www.solarfeeds.com/mag/in-focus-the-european-supergrid/
https://supernode.energy/blog/the-politics-of-the-pan-european-supergrid/

Waterford Wind Farms to power Europe?

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.

The path of the planned connector plus the 7 wind farms planned for the Waterford and Cork coasts (total 5600 MW)and the two planned for the coast of Brittany (total 800MW)

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.

Eirgrid’s proposed cable link making landfall at Youghal, is currently in planning stages. It is part of the Irish end of a 500km cable that will connect Ireland to France’s electric grid.

(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.

Links

Read more here from Tripe and Drisheen: https://tripeanddrisheen.substack.com/p/east-corks-celtic-interconnector?fbclid=IwAR1z21_b_faEWG1NRYzlHMW8o4voBEFkHVG5NIP7e2ODv5c4-_x7jEk_2Z4

https://renewablesnow.com/news/france-pre-selects-10-bidders-in-250-mw-floating-wind-auction-754176/

https://www.iberdrola.com/about-us/lines-business/flagship-projects/saint-brieuc-offshore-wind-farm

https://www.idom.com/en/project/saint-brieuc-496-mwe-offshore-wind-farm-on-the-coast-of-french-brittany/

Windy Wednesday: Some Windfarms

Below I have picked out four wind farms and listed their specifications. I have also added my own notes as to why they are of interest in the case of the wind farms planned for the Copper Coast, three of which I have listed below for comparison

Energia’s North Celtic Sea Project (5-10km offshore) proposes a 600-800MW(approx.600,000 homes) wind farm and suggests that between 40-60 turbines are the usual amount (many factors will determine that, geography, turbine type and height, distance from shore. For example the London Array at 600MW has 175 turbines).

ESB/Equinors’ Celtic Offshore Wind proposal (10km offshore) is also for 600MW (approx. 600,000 homes) and has no mention of the amount of turbines.

SSE Renewables floating wind farm The Celtic Sea Array(25km offshore) proposes an 800MW wind farm with no turbine estimate.

Beatrice

Beatrice. Irish Independent June 2020.

Beatrice Up to 2007, wind farms were only built in depths of 20 metres and less. Then came the experimental two turbine Beatrice wind farm off the east coast of Scotland (25km from shore and at a 40 metre depth). Beatrice has since been expanded closer to shore. What’s interesting to note is that Beatrice powers homes in southern Scotland via a 160km long subsea cable and underground cables to Blackhillock Substation in Northern Aberdeenshire via underground cables. This required the construction of two new converter stations, one at Blackhillock, which, at the size of 24 football pitches, is now the largest substation in the UK.

Of added interest re:the length of this cable to us on the Copper Coast is that the governments of the UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland commissioned a study about a decade ago which concluded that the development of an offshore interconnected grid would provide the UK with an increase of imports in the form of renewable generation from the Irish market and improve the interconnector capacity between both markets (Aoife Foley, Paraic Higgins, The evolution of offshore wind power in the United Kingdom, 2013). Could the power generated on the Copper Coast be used in the UK?

Distance from Shore: 13km

Area:131 square km

Water Depth: 56 metres.

Number of Turbines: 84

Turbine Height:188 metres (maximum pile depth to the highest point of the blade sweep up to 288)​

Turbine Type: Siemens Gamesa 7MW

Foundation: Jacket (with the jacket substructures up to 81m tall).

Operator: SSE on behalf of a joint venture partnership.

Electricity Generation: 400, 000 homes.

The London Array

London Array wind farm as viewed from the air in February 2019 Source:Bodgesoc

Once the biggest offshore wind farm in the world, the London Array is 20km off the Kent coast. Maintained and operated from the port of Ramsgate. Turbines are between 650 and 1200 metres apart. The blades have a swept area of one and a half times the size of Wembley Stadium’s football pitch. The turbines are designed to run for more than 20 years. That means basically that after two decades or so many wind farms will be decommissioned. Like our Metal Man and his pillars. Only eleven times taller. And more numerous.

Distance from Shore: 20km

Number of Turbines: 175

Turbine Height to tip of blade:147 metre

Turbine Type: Siemens 3.6MW

Water Depth: 25 metres

Foundation: Monopile (i.e. basically an extension of the turbine underwater)

Area: 100 square km

Operator: RWE, Orsted, Masdar & La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ)

Electricity Generation: 500, 000 homes.

Hornsea 1 Image Credit: Volodimir Zozulinskyi/Shutterstock.com

Hornsea 1

Located off the Yorkshire coast, Hornsea One spans a huge area over five times the size of the city of Hull. The offshore wind farm uses 7 MW wind turbines, with each one 190 metres tall – larger than the Humber Bridge concrete towers.

Distance from Shore: 120km

Number of Turbines: 174

Turbine Height to tip of blade:190 metre

Turbine Type: Siemens Gamesea 7MW

Water Depth: 25 – 30 metres

Foundation: Monopile

Area: 407 square km

Operator: Orsted

Electricity Generation: 1 million homes.

Dogger Bank

Dogger Bank. Image Windpower Monthly

Dogger Bank Wind Farm is an offshore wind farm that will be the largest in the world when it’s finished, knocking Hornsea 1 off the top spot. It’s worth noting as it is located between 130km and 190km from the North East coast of England. Turbines are GE’s Haliade X 13 and 14 MW, over two and a half times taller than the Statue of Liberty and are likely to be considered by some developers for the Waterford coast. Dogger Bank will be capable of powering up to 6 million homes on completion in 2026. The subsea export cables will make landfall in Yorkshire, where around 30km of underground cables will take the electricity to converter stations near Cottingham before passing through the adjacent Creyke Beck substation onto the National Grid.

Distance from Shore: 130-190km

Number of Turbines: 600 (up to 200 for each phase).

Turbine Height: 260 metres

Turbine Type: General Electric’s Haliade X 13/14MW

Water Depth: 18-63metre.

Foundation: Monopile

Area: 8660 square km

Operator: SSE Renewables/Equinor/Eni

Electricity Generation: 6 million homes

Block Island Wind Farm ©John Supancic

BONUS Farm: Block Island off Rhode Island. America’s first offshore wind farm was operational in 2016 and its operation has since been taken over by the Danish company Orsted. Though it is a pilot windfarm – 5 Haliade 6MW turbines less than 5km offshore – this ‘little’ windfarm deserves its own post because for most of this summer the turbines were shut down and the island’s residents did not know why. I’ll post about it on Saturday and move the planned post for creating an artist’s impression of turbines further along.

Other Posts: The Winds of Change: Block Island, The Winds of Change: Introduction to a Series, The Winds of Change: The Proposals, Windy Wednesday: Distance to Horizon for Dummies,

The Winds of Change: The Proposal(s)

Proposed windfarms of the Waterford and Cork coasts: Map http://www.bluehorizon.ie

The above image from Blue Horizon* is probably the simplest way to illustrate what wind farms are being proposed for the coast of Waterford and Cork. In addition to these blocks, imagine 12 x 4km strips leading to shore at various points from Cork to Ballycotton to Bonmahon to Bannow. Those are areas to be surveyed for potential cable corridors – ultimately about 1km wide – for burying cables. They are included in images below. You can stop reading now if you like but I will go in to a bit more detail on companies and cable corridors below. There is a post on calculating distances from shore here.

*Blue Horizon are a group of interested indviduals who have come together calling for all offshore wind projects to be placed at least 22km from the Waterford coast, following the approach taken across the EU. Their website is a great resource

The Companies Proposing

Energia (once Viridian) is an Independent company and ESB’s main competitor. It used to be Irish owned but in 2006 it was sold to a Bahrain based investment group Arcapita and in 2016 sold on to US private equity firm I-Squared Cap, an independent global infrastructure investment manager. Energia have just been granted a licence to carry out Site Investigation works related to the potential development of a fixed (that is with turbines built into the sea bed) wind farm with an output capacity of 600-1000MW in the Celtic Sea off County Waterford. That MW would power very roughly half a million homes. It is the biggest single area being surveyed and the one closest to the coast. They are exploring 7 options for cable corridors and landfalls. Energia have recently been saying this wind farm is to be 10km offshore but as we can see it is (or was) planned for considerably closer than the ESB/Equinor proposal which is 10km and I certainly heard of a 5km distance some time earlier in the year. Watch this space.

Potential cable corridors for Energia’s wind farm. Image take from WLRFM’s website/Blue Horizon interview.

DP Energy Ireland is a Cork-based company owned by Maureen De Pietro and Simon De Pietro. DPEI are investigating the feasibility of Inis Ealga Marine Energy Park (IEMEP). Their’s is one of the few websites with photos of their team. They seem to be particularly interested in floating rather than fixed platforms. They are exploring 3 options for cable corridors and landfalls.

Potential cable corridors for DPEI’s wind farm aka ‘Marine Park’.

ESB, sure we all know them right?The Irish Government-owned power company and Energia’s rival are working with developers Equinor – a Norwegian government-owned group – on a number of projects. In my reading so far the ESB and Energia proposals for the Waterford coast have not had any distinction made between them and it’s possible they are in competition for the same area. ESB’s Helvick Offshore Windfarm is planned for 10km off shore and will take up 140 square km. ESB/Equinor are also working on Celtic 1, a fixed wind farm planned for 8km off Ballycotton. It will take up 120 square km. Its planned to be 600MW which would power over half a million homes. After that Celtic 2 is planned which is a floating wind farm. They are also working on a project, Sea Stacks, 12km off Dublin which will be 800MW.

SSE are a Scottish registered company (they also have pictures of some of their team on their site) and they are exploring two potential cable corridors and landfalls at Bannow Bay Wexford and Bonmahon, Co.Waterford for, I assume, their proposed floating windfarm planned for 25km off shore.

I am not going to go near Shell…we’ll the Cork lads deal with that.

A note about cable corridors and surveys.

SSE Renewables from their application to survey potential cable corridors and cable landfalls.

Cables carrying power from offshore to land need to be buried in the sea bed. Above is an image from SSE’s application for permission to survey for cable corridors. The requested area to survey for the corridors is 4km wide. In actuality they say they may survey a 1km strip of sea bed and after initial surveys may possibly only survey only one corridor in detail. I imagine this framework also applies to the other ten cable corridors being investigated for this clutch of windfarms. Surveying involves both geophysical/non-invasive (e.g. acoustic soundings) and geotechnical/invasive (e.g. vibrocore, boring, sampling) methods. This seems to suggest major disturbance over a wide variety of areas from inshore to off. Sadly, no matter how far out the windfarms are, the cable corridors – and cable landfalls (which I will look at along with shore based assemblage/construction/supply bases when I know more) will likely be a major consideration.

In the cable corridors there are echoes of Shell to Sea’s campaign against the natural gas pipeline. Anyone wishing to read more on that – and perhaps brace themselves – should read Once Upon a Time in the West:The Corrib Gas Controversy by Lorna Siggins. It’s a sobering read.

Next Wednesday I’ll do a short post describing some of the biggest existing and planned wind farms. Next Saturday I’ll have a look at creating an artist’s impression of an off shore wind farm. Comments are turned off but any information, comments, corrections etc are welcome via the contact form on this blog. I will consider guest posts too.

The Winds of Change: Introduction to a series

The first in a series of posts on Waterford’s Copper Coast

We have all sorts of life here on the Waterford Coast, on the water and the cliffs and beaches, from the fin whales which travel east past us every autumn and winter to the the tiny sprat they chase. Dolphins, porpoise and otters frolic, seals bask and fish jump. Birds – cormorants, shags, gulls, divers, heron, kestrels, buzzards, stonechat, chough, curlew, rooks and jackdaws – are legion too. There’s fisherfolk, surfers, kite surfers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers, long and short distance swimmers, seaweed collectors and cockle pickers, bird and whale watchers, walkers and hikers. So far amenities for tourists along the coast are sparse (thankfully so some think) but a long-term, sensitive plan could bring millions to the area as Waterford is increasingly being recognised as a beautiful part of Ireland.

But now, before any sustainable tourism framework has gained a foothold, a windfarm – or a series of them – is planned for the entire 30km of our coast. Initially the closest group of turbines (said to be between 190 and 260 metres high) was to be 5km off shore, though lately Energia, the company responsible, has referred to minimum distances of 10km. This is still far closer than the recommended 22km which is roughly how far off the horizon is from much of our coast road.

My own initial and negative reaction was based on a belief that we need the wild spaces far more than we realise, but its a need that can be hard to quantify or rationalize. Later I also realised that my issues were not with wind power exactly but how it is developed and who it is developed by. For me this is a very important distinction.

But I am not yet convinced wind power on this scale is guaranteed to last. What will the cost to benefit ratio really be?Could this development make things worse in the long run?Leave us with a destroyed coastline and expensive bills?What if there is no long run?What if it is way past the time for any of us to be able to reap any benefits from such developments?Why do we have an energy crisis in the first place? Could there be more grassroots solutions?

I’ll post every Saturday for the next while as I explore these questions. I’ll try to keep an open mind but it will be a personal study and I may not reach any conclusions. Perhaps it may help others frame their own questions. I’ll keep it short, it won’t all be windfarms, there’ll be a fair amount of sea appreciation and old posts too. And hopefully guest posters. I am turning comments off on all posts on the blog because really, who has the time? But anyone can contact me privately via the contact form on this blog.

Welcome on board!

Other Posts The Winds of Change: The Proposals, Windy Wednesday: Distance to Horizon for Dummies, Windy Wednesday: Some Windfarms

Archive – Into the Blue: Thoughts on Living and Dying

CROSSM

Going out to the cliffs last evening, I absentmindedly sat down right beside Eamonn Coady’s cross. I was thinking of Gillian Ryan. Gillian was an athlete from Tipperary who died after a fall while running in the Comeragh mountains at the weekend. Her death made international news and seems to have touched a nerve. As I sat there, I realised that it would be Eamonn’s anniversary today, April 22nd. 44 years ago the 14 year old Waterford boy died after a fall from the cliff. The subsequent, difficult retrieval saw the establishment of Tramore Sea Cliff Rescue and since then many other fantastic volunteer organisations such as SEMRA who, after 3 days searching, brought Gillian down from a gully at Coumshingaun on Tuesday in difficult conditions. Our search and rescue teams are the best of us. Here’s a post I wrote about Eamonn in 2013.

On the cliffs there is a cross. Maybe once it was painted black but now it’s the colour of raw umber. It is set into a smooth, rectangular, grey stone which is engraved with the name and age of a boy who died here over 30 years ago at the age of 14. Last week as I was sitting nearby watching for whales, the sea and the sky spreading south at my feet, my thoughts wandered to the boy again.

I imagined him to be like many 14-year-old boys as he crossed the fields on that long ago April day, full of laughter and trouble and fun and confusion and angst and possibility before that moment when he tumbled into the blue. I suppose his family will remember him as the person he was but the rest of us may be inclined to fashion the bare cross and its words into a story that makes us feel safe from the long searching finger of death, a story that is not our story because surely our story will make more sense?

When we hear someone has died young it often arouses pity in our hearts at the tragedy of the loss of years that could ‘reasonably’ have been depended on. But are we not all of us more than our deaths? Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations tells us that when we die, no matter what our span of years has been, we all lose the same thing and one thing only: the present moment. Everything else is illusion, the future, the past, they are only so much dust, mere constructs we have tried to impose on the chaos of life.

All this was in my head when I heard yesterday of the sudden death of the brother of a friend of mine (and the friend of a brother of mine) at the age of 41. I did not know him that well but there are connections between our families and the loss is deeply felt, the sudden manner of his death – slow enough for realisation perhaps but too swift for any chance of preparation- deeply saddening.

So I am feeling, saddened and sickened as I get on my bike and take off around the coast and the countryside. It is a grey day but mild for December. The south wind is raking the sea when I stop at Dunabrattin where large numbers of gulls hang and glide and turn on the currents overhead. I head inland, along country roads. There is no traffic and I feel alone in all the world but not lonely. It is not an unfriendly day. Two horses stand in a field, their dark tails fanning out in the breeze. A rook cocks its head at me from an overhead wire, a dog barks, a marmalade cat with a pale chest appears beside a red and white barn. There is a buzzard standing in the stubble of a field, ragged legs and yellow beak. It is a bird I have never seen before.

There is the human urge in me to see patterns everywhere. 41 years is 14 years backwards I think. The buzzard, the unusual stillness,  the gulls…But I dismiss them before I can even wonder what it all means.

If we start to feel sad for these ‘early’ deaths, pity separates us from them. But how are these boys that have gone different from us really?They were what we are now: people living out the span of their lives, whatever that span may be. Remove time from the equation and we are all just doing our best in the here and now: laughing, struggling, talking, fighting, loving, hating, despairing, panicking, angry, in pain and fear and occasional joy.

In an effort to relieve our sorrow we fit the dead into neat little stories and patterns. They are an anomaly we think. Our departure when it comes will be different, more graceful, more timely. But the truth is we are all of us tossed around on the sea of life navigating through whatever comes. We are all in the same big, bastardy boat. We are all in our ‘present moments’ and that is how we remember each other, those who have just walked out of the room and those who will not return.

I tear through the countryside my lungs heaving in the smokey air, flavoured with the occasional piney tang of fresh-cut logs, past the stone walls that line the undulating pale road. A dolmen, a red pump, skeletal trees scratching the grey sky. A magpie – no two!thank the gods – the cats and the dogs, horse and cows and strange birds weave in and out of my vision. I am in my moment as others have been in theirs, cycling, running, gallivanting on the cliffs or sitting, as Nick sometimes did, cat in lap, in front of a fire talking of everything under the sun. Like those moments, my moment will some day end too. Maybe today I will not make it home.

I do make it home. This time. I take off my helmet and gloves and wheel my bike inside without pausing and set to go about the business of living, intent on doing as little as possible to stir the great lake of sadness inside me this day.

“No one can lose either the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess? … It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have.”
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

For Nick and Eamonn and Gillian. And all of us….

Archive: Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Tramore 2013

Walking in to Tramore town to collect my car, abandoned at the start of an unplanned night out, I was feeling a little fragile. When I came across the St. Patrick’s Day parade at the top of Gallwey’s hill over looking the beach, I took the opportunity to stop and take a breath. The exuberance, colour and good humour of both the parade and the crowd was immediately captivating as well as surprising. The growing media coverage of glitzier spectacles in the 80s and 90s began to make local parades, with their ragged processions of vans and trucks, the inevitably sodden troops of scouts and Irish dancers, look dull, made it hard to work up much interest.

This parade was a lot bigger than I expected. There were the shiny vans and ambulances of our Coastguard in their smart uniforms along with the Sea Cliff Rescue. Smiling tractor drivers chugged by on their colourful tractors and classic cars, carefully polished, gleamed in the surprising sunshine.

ROCKY DRIVING THE WOMEN NUTS
Rocky Mills..

Local businesses were represented on floats and by gleaming vans. Some extra vehicular oomph was provided by TCRFM and their sexy red convertible and Tramore Tourism’s retro caravan. T-Bay Surf Club, who won best float with their big funky bus and hawaiian shirts. Even the Pope was there in his Popemobile though he was naturally outclassed by the legendary Rocky Mills, local Elvis impersonator. There were many more participants who I missed: the bands, the scouts, the taekwondo club, the dancers, the athletes and all the various groups that make up a community. 

To see these people – the exuberant leprechauns with sacks of free goodies, the crowd with their balloons and wigs and flags, Rocky rocking out, the pirates in their wee boat and my own favourite, the Metal Man – was a burst of positivity that I didn’t know I needed. Life has been tough across the board in recent years and the future is weighs heavy on most. Yet here were crowds of people, people who had dressed up, washed their cars and tractors, who had made an effort to show their achievements with pride, all smiling and laughing in the sun together. Standing there, propped against the old pebbledashed wall in the bright spring air, I had a deeper understanding of the importance of community and I felt stirrings of local pride…

…then again it could have been the hangover….

Sunday Archive: A Meditation on Whale-Watching

FIN WHALES FROM DUNABRATTIN PHOTO CREDIT:PADDY DWAN
Fin Whales off the Copper Coast. Photo: Paddy Dwan.

This week I had the best day of land-based whale watching for many years seeing 6 or more whales in 2 groups, mostly fin whales but nearly positive of at least one humpback, a minke, as well as dolphins galore so I thought I would re-edit this post for the occasion.

All my life I had wanted to see a whale but all my life it never occurred to me to make an effort to do so, to stand and watch from a cliff, to learn about the habits of these giants of the deep, to check the internet for sightings. I somehow expected one to pop up in front of me one day. In the event this is exactly what happened one day, ten years ago now, when I was walking down the winding road to my small local beach. Suddenly, not a quarter of a mile from shore, there was a powerful explosion from the deep. A cloud of vapour hung for long moments on the air. Then, a long, shining, black back emerged, rolling, to reveal, finally a curving fin:a fin whale, the second biggest creature on the planet. I was undone with the excitement.

It was a cold February and there was frost and ice all over the road. Seven miles away a friend lay dying and so the days were pervaded with sorrow. It was with gratitude then, that I greeted this monster, its powerful blow an exclamation mark that punctuated the sentence of those chill days. I could not quite see it as a direct message from the universe but it was potent reminder of how powerful and enduring life was.

FIN WHALE OFF GARRARUS 2012
Fin Whale off the Copper Coast 2012.

I scrambled tearfully, gratefully, excitedly up the cliffs and watched for an hour as my leviathan swam back to out sea. I texted my friend in his hospital bed.

“I saw a whale!”

It seemed important to tell him.

Three years on I found myself suffering from fin whale fatigue. I still haven’t paddled a kayak beside one but I have seen plenty from my places of the cliffs, from a boat and it’s all a bit, well, meh. That icy cold day in February is nearly forgotten, left behind out of necessity. I guess we can’t keep our faces pressed up against the pain of the world forever.

I still watch though and I tell myself it is because I have yet to see a humpback whale, the rock star of the whale world, the one whose T-shaped tail adorns a billion motivational posters.  I convince myself it will be much more exciting than the oh-so common Fin, but I am like someone trying to convince themselves that the next iPhone will make their lives complete. It will but for how long?5 minutes? For all my weariness though, underneath runs a current, something that brings me out onto the cliffs over and over again. It is a vaguely conscious understanding that it is the watching for whales rather than watching of whales that is important.

So, I sit out on the cliff in the bouncy grass, surrounded by waving flowers – or the skeletal remains of flowers – while the gulls slide by and the insects buzz. I usually sit at Dunabrattin to do my watching but sometimes I just go down the fields. Sometimes I travel further, to Baginbun in Wexford or to West Cork. I scan the sea, pressing the binoculars to my face, squinting as I start the sweep slowly along the horizon west to east and back again. For a while it is dull. There is nothing out there, my heart sinks. What a waste of time, I say to myself, but my breathing slows and I relax. The sky is blue or grey, cloudy or clear, the sea cobalt, ultramarine or dirty green, smooth or choppy or rippled by the winds soft hands and shot through with colour and shadow.

The horizon isn’t the ruler straight line you see with the naked eye. Even on a calm day it is frayed and soft, an undulating silken fringe breaking down the division between Heaven and Earth. Occasionally it becomes blurred with the sweeping showers of rain that swing out over the sea from the mountains and disappear east. At Baginbun in Wexford, sometimes previously unseen buildings swell up from beyond the horizon like a mystical city of the sea.

Trawlers bob on the waves, smaller and smaller and then shimmering and swelling at the line of the sky. I often see an Irish naval ship, the LE Emer maybe, or the Samuel Beckett, patrolling, and once I saw her sailors stop and board one of the bobbing boats. I imagined the tension on board, and afterwards, when the Navy was gone, the crew having a tea break, hot water poured from a battered metal kettle that sits on the stove, chipped cups, a battered box of Lyons tea, a half packet of digestives passed around. Or more likely they have tapas, or wine and shrug and pooh pooh our Navy in one of the romantic languages. Putáin!

Heron

Then, there are the birds. They flap across my field of vision, sometimes low with their bellies full, sometimes high, in a hurry somewhere (where?) all flying in different directions, alone or in pairs, criss-crossing a sky of invisible highways. A heron flaps by;gannets circle and drop, tearing knots of spray in the fabric of the sea;cormorants, flip and dive, and then, stuttering, take off, black arrows over the surface of the water. Occasionally seals bob up, looking mournful, as if the racket from their dive bombing avian neighbours above has woken them. And the crows of course; choughs, rooks, hooded crows, jackdaws…

All this before a fin has so much sliced the surface. The longer I sit, the more there is a growing sense of the life and community on, and in, the sea, a sense of business being carried out. I look out at the ocean that ten minutes before I thought was empty and I know it’s not. It’s not just the birds and the boats. As I look across space I am looking across time too. If I can see that bird so many miles away from me then surely with a little effort I can see other people further away? I look south and think of Spain and the Azores and wonder what people are doing there. I imagine it’s warm and for some reason I see people in red shirts eating melons and wearing sombreros though my education tells me that is not, mostly likely, correct…

I look west and next stop is America where the people are five hours behind me in their day. Look, there is someone having a coffee and staring blankly out of an apartment window at a rainy day. As barrier after barrier breaks down, I imagine that if it’s possible to see to five hours ago, then if I were high enough, it could be possible to see yesterday, as well as today and tomorrow. It could be possible to see three years ago…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is grassy-bank-1-sm.jpg

Breathing slowly now, I am completely relaxed. Just by being still, just by watching the world, the dull film of familiarity has been peeled back and the world has become new again, the barriers between jaded adulthood and wonderous childhood are broken down and my eyes filled with life. When a blow finally appears followed by a lazy black back it is nearly (but not quite) unwelcome. It is at least unnecessary to reach a place of peace.

I stay and watch the puffs of white catching the sun, distant cannons of an invisible army, remembering a little what it is like to have my face pressed right up against life so hard that it hurts. Sitting there, on the bouncy grass among the nodding sea pinks, I am thankful. At least for a while.

Extra Sketcher

For the duration of the lockdown (until December here in Ireland) I am going to post weekly from the archive. However to start this is a post from some years back which I never published…

The sunlight falls through the wicker awnings on the jumble of earthenware jugs that hang there, casting striped shadows on the rough plaster wall, on the platters of cabbage and turnip and beet and the rough yarn, bright against the turquoise lap of my roughly woven gown. The man the next stall over fusses with some logs and then stands and hitches up the leather belt that holds his tunic together, pushing his greasy hair out of his eyes getting  ready to lift the wooden barrel at his side. Somewhere a goat bleats and hens cluck fussily from a wicker cage as people cross the market, chatting and laughing, their faces like small suns with happiness after a long winter.

The air is pungent with the smell of horse manure and thick with smoke from the braziers of the various stalls for it is still early spring and there’s a nip in the air. For all that, the faces of the soldiers above their dully glinting plated jerkins are shiny and streaked with sweat. It runs from under their helmets as they man the walls, gazes directed toward the rutted track curling around the side of the hill and the still skeletal horse chestnut tree on its brow.

Soon the thunder of hooves and the jingling of harness catches my ear and we are all gazing towards the skyline, at the nobles galloping down the track, embroidered banners flapping furiously. As they ride in, everyone rushes out of their path, nodding and curtseying clumsily, turning, robes swirling in the dust. I stand and bow, my wool tumbling to the ground as I catch my foot on my gown and nearly get tangled in my cloak. After the fuss has died down, we return to our places as the horses wheel back up the track while men and women necklaced with headphones and wearing cargo shorts and hoodies re-assemble the scene and rearrange the gear. It was my first day on the set.

I was an extra once before on the movie Circle of Friends and enjoyed it immensely. A chance to sit and do nothing without guilt, to observe, to talk to people one wouldn’t usually meet. Its an interesting way to loosen the bonds of my own self-imposed fetters. As a gloomy, wearer of black I was appalled to find myself on the Circle of Friends set dressed in a yellow blouse, a pink cardigan, a green corduroy jacket and a long brown crimplene skirt with brown tights and flat black shoes. My hair was tied up on my head with a yellow ribbon. I looked dreadful. And hilarious. And it didn’t matter.

When I went for the fitting this time I sincerely hoped I would be a heroic warrior type or soldier. I had tried to make myself look as fierce as possible for the audition photo. As I waited for my costume I looked at the bejewelled and veiled ladies about me and thought it might not be so bad to be a princess. Then the wardrobe girl presented me with a large shapeless brown woolly dress, a brown throw that would have not looked out of place on the sofa of a student bedsit after a three-day drinking marathon and a pair of volumnous leather boots. A princess I was not.

I walked across the car park to the hair and make-up sheds looking probably like a large brown moth with hippy leanings. In the first shed the hair-dresser looked at my long, unkempt locks parted in the middle and asked how I usually wore my hair.

“Like this,” I said.

“Hmm,” she said in a tone laced with well-meant pity. She told me not to do anything with it. Similarly in the make-up shed the girl told me not to put any make up on on the day of the shoot.

“I don’t usually wear any,” I said.

“Hmmm,” she said in a tone not dissimilar to her hairdressing counterpart and patted me sadly on the arm.

It was only as I walked glumly back across the car park that I noticed the oversized luggage tag attached to my costume as it fluttered in the breeze. ‘Lower Class’ it read in large capital letters, in case, I suppose, anyone mistook me for anything else. Still, I couldn’t help but be excited about my first day on set. I was planning on bringing my sketch pad…