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.

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.

Break-your-heart-blue: A Virtual Walk on the Copper Coast

I am currently working on a book of illustrated essays from this blog. In the meantime here’s an old post.IMG_0501

It is beautiful today, though there is a cold wind from the west. The light is rich and honeyed, the waters of the bay an intense blue. It is the kind of blue that reminds me of the Firth of Forth at Edinburgh, which is visible from so many parts of that beautiful city. It is the blue of Cezanne’s Mediterranean at L’Estaque on the aptly named Cote d’Azur. So dense a blue, I can feel it resonating in my chest; a break-your-heart blue, vibrant and intense.

L'ESTAQUE WITH RED ROOFS(PAUL CEZANNE)

L’Estaque with red roofs (Paul Cezanne)

Up the dusty road, daffodils nod on the ditch towards the T-Junction watched over by big bellied pine trees. Rockett’s Bar (now closed) is up to the left, while the bright ochre beach and dunes are visible, for a while at least, to the right until the road drops past the big yellow field to bend and turn north towards the town.

DAFFS SMAn Anvil Head cloud has risen to the south. It is a cloud that occurs when cold air rises until it meets warm air and then spreads out to form the shape of an anvil. In the sun on an ivy covered wall, two cats sit facing each other, as if in deep conversation.

PALS

PALS

The road towards the town passes Newtown House where the crows carrying sticks are wheeling through the blue sky crazy-paved with the twisted branches of squiggly trees. Further on the apple blossoms delicately kiss the sky.

BLOSSOMS

BLOSSOMS

TREE

TREE

Descending Newtown Hill I pass a plump collared dove perched on a wire. At the bottom of the hill I turn left onto the Cliff Road which runs along the west side of the bay to Newtown Cove & the Guillamene, a mecca for swimmers all year around. The rocks on this side of the bay, empty now, are often dotted with people fishing for mackerel in the early autumn.

MACKEREL TIME (1)

Fresh Mackerel

Swerving past the entrance to the cove’s car park, the road curves up into Newtown Woods, a steep sided ravine of decrepit decidusous trees that shelters owls and pigeons. Here the new ferns glow between the shadows that also ladder the footpath which is edged with the mush of last years leaves.

Today, as every day, at every step of the way, something catches the attention, from my own shadow, to a twist of ivy root, to a familiar and much-loved stump (much-loved by me that is. I know it’s weird to love stumps). Everywhere there are possible paintings, photographs, drawings:striped shadows on a barn wall, a road sign, trees that look like a dancing couple, a sunlit path descending into dark undergrowth, an ivy covered fence post.

BARN AND MOON

BARN AND MOON

Emerging from the woods, I turn towards home and the landscape opens out again. The dusty road is lined by fields and an occasional house. The Metal Man and his pillars dominate the landscape here but the rusty cows pay him no heed as they amble in the gorsey, rocky fields. As I pass the familiar bank of rattling reed stems and walk up towards the setting sun, the sea to my left, is still blue but the waxing moon is rising towards the coming night.STUMP

IVY AND THE MOON

IVY AND THE MOON