Coast Diary – January 22nd

On the cliffs

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.

Coast Diary – January 8th

Buzz in his tree

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.

The day after the dolphins it was raining again.

Winds of Change – An incomplete list of Irish Marine Life

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.

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

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/

The Winds of Change: What are Turbines made of?

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.

Overview of a wind farm from On the Use of Scaled Model Tests for Analysis and Design of Offshore Wind Turbines – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323118519_On_the_Use_of_Scaled_Model_Tests_for_Analysis_and_Design_of_Offshore_Wind_Turbines [accessed 5 Nov, 2021]

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.

Different foundations to support offshore wind turbines based on water depths. Reference same as previous image.

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…

Other posts in the series are

The Winds of Change: Introduction to a series

Windy Wednesday: The distance to the horizon for Dummies

The Winds of Change: The Proposal(s)

Windy Wednesday: Some Windfarms

The Winds of Change: Block Island

Windy Wednesday: An Artist’s Impression in Progress

Links and References

https://www.windpowerengineering.com/comparing-offshore-wind-turbine-foundations/
https://www.designboom.com/design/denmark-repurposing-wind-turbine-blades-bike-garages-09-27-2021/
https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51325101
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Different-foundations-to-support-offshore-wind-turbines-based-on-water-depths_fig5_323118519

The Winds of Change: Block Island

The story of Block Island caught my eye. Block Island off Rhode Island is a permanent home to 1000 residents. In the summer times, daily visitors number between 10 to 20,000. Electricity supply has been problematic with some using generators and their own wind turbines. An application by the community for a grant for an undersea cable to connect to the mainland grid was rejected. The proposed wind turbines, 5 Haliade 6MW turbines, seemed a no-brainer for most though there were those who objected to it. But this small, private wind farm went ahead and began commercial operation in 2016. But there have been problems. Within a couple of years, the undersea cable connecting to the mainland (as part of the wind farm project) became uncovered at the island end for it had only been buried in places at four-foot depth to save money. Warning flags appeared on some beaches for a while and the cable had to be reburied at the cost of $31million. This reburial also has also problems with blockages and sediment.

There is some controversy over who paid for this reburial with claims that the National Grid profited by $46million from customer surcharges for maintaining the cable. The National Grid denies this.

The Block Island offshore wind farm  [FROM –  cleanpower.org/resources/offshore-wind-public-participation-guide]. Taken from Green City Times.

This June, 2021 it was noticed 4 out of 5 of the turbines had ceased operation. The community on the island struggled to get any information from the operators, the Danish-based Orsted, who claimed that the turbines were down for regular maintenance which was best performed in summer. Ignoring the fact that it is the summer when the island needs the power most, this caused a lot of frustration and the turbines were down for the best part of two months. It emerged then that stress fatigue was noted on the support structures of the “helihoist” platforms on some of GE Haliade turbines in the Merkur project in the German North Sea. Stress lines were subsequently found in Block Island’s turbines but a risk assessment has deemed them safe and repairs were also undertaken.

The Haliade turbines are the same turbines being considered for some of the Copper Coast windfarms – though likely they will be of more recent versions and of higher wattage – which will have well over 100 turbines if projected output is anything to go by.

In the end, the shutting down of the turbines caused no power interruption for the island as the cable, though still being reburied, continued to connect them to the national grid. As far as I know, the turbines are operational once again.

Block Island. Image GE/Sharon Radisch. Taken from Duke Energy/Illumination.

Previous Posts

The Winds of Change: Introduction to a Series, The Winds of Change: The Proposals, Windy Wednesday: Distance to Horizon for Dummies, Windy Wednesday: Some Windfarms

Links

https://www.blockislandtimes.com/article/national-grid-returning-finish-cable-reburial/59851

https://eu.providencejournal.com/story/news/2021/08/14/block-island-offshore-wind-farm-offline-two-months-due-to-maintenance-and-safety-concerns/8122841002/

https://electrek.co/2021/08/10/egeb-us-first-offshore-wind-farm-is-currently-offline-heres-why/https://splash247.com/turbine-stress-issues-bring-merkur-offshore-wind-farm-offline/

https://www.theday.com/article/20210807/NWS05/210809578

https://www.ge.com/renewableenergy/stories/block-island-construction-process

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: The Battle for the Metal Man 2013

The Metal Man and his pillars in 2005 before some Waterford business people sponsored their repainting. Photo:The Author.

This is a synopsis of three posts from 2013 that were moved when the site name was changed. This summary was created as a part of a new archive of The Mermaid’s Purse posts and reposted in order to provide an historical account of some events in the life of The Metal Man, a local amenity in Tramore, Co.Waterford, Ireland. 

Back in 2009, a community group, Tramore Tourism, was encouraged by the then Waterford County Council to seek ownership of the Metal Man and his pillars – including the pillars at Brownstown Head – from the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) who, having no practical reasons for maintaining their upkeep, were prepared to gift them to an appropriate organisation. Waterford County Council had already refused ownership due to lack of money. In summer 2010 CIL determined that Tramore Tourism were the best candidates to do so.

It was necessary for Tramore Tourism to set up a legal entity to receive the pillars and Tramore Heritage Ltd. (THL) was born in October 2011. THL was limited by guarantee and was a public company. A public company in this instance means not-for-profit rather than being connected to the stock market. This appears to be the only way for a group or community to create a legal framework and is used by sports clubs and amenities such as Hook Head Lighthouse. None of the directors of a public company can make profit from it in any way nor sell any assets. If THL had wound up, the pillars would have to be passed onto another community group. The board of THL consisted of various local business people and, initially, a Tramore Town Councillor. THL had also applied for charitable status which, once granted, would have provided extra safeguards for the public.

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THL’s plan for the Metal Man Heritage Trail

THL worked towards getting the transfer of the pillars from CIL locally approved as well as negotiating access with the farmers on whose land the pillars stand. THL met with various interested parties a number of times to discuss their plans in detail. A public meeting was called for and held in January 2012 in the civic offices in Tramore.

Not everyone agreed that THL was the best way forward. In 2010 the Town Councillor had parted ways with THL. In December 2012 the concerned councillor wrote to An Taisce raising concerns around THL’s public company status. The fear was that the pillars were falling into private hands. Incidentally, in September 2012, that same councillor had set up a private company called Tramore Cultural Development (TCDL) to “assist individuals and organisations working to advance the preservation of the towns heritage.”

An Taisce then wrote to the Tramore Town Manager suggesting the deal be postponed until 2014 when Tramore Town Council – who had approval of any transfer of the pillars – would be dissolved, elections would take place and the new Amalgamated Council could take on the ownership of the pillars. It was suggested that the new Amalgamated Council (with some seats still to be contested at this point) could then lease the pillars to a private company interested in preserving local heritage. Any access to the pillars would have to be renegotiated.

Due to this confusion of the definition of public versus private company, in early 2013 things got heated. To cut a long story short, enough doubt and obsfuscation were created around company status – particularly in a social media campaign in March and April of 2013 that included personal attacks on THL’s board – that Tramore Town Council ultimately decided not to approve the transfer of the Metal Man and its pillars from CIL to THL. As An Taisce had suggested, on the back of the concerned councillor’s letter, a move was put forward to get the Council, soon to be The Waterford City & County Council, to take over the pillars. THL was dissolved as it had been set up for the sole purpose of managing the pillars for the community in the first place

Eight years on, it appears nothing came of that motion and without access to the land or any necessary legal framework, it may be very difficult to restart any venture there. Even if the Council do manage to gain access, as was suggested might be on the cards in the local press in 2015, the quality of the management of the amenity in either cash-strapped council hands or left to a private company, may not be popular with locals.

The pillars still remain, undisturbed.

Photo:The Author.

A Note on Sources

Most sources were public and included articles and letters in national and local newspapers incl. The Journal, The Waterford News and Star, The Munster Express, The Tramore Tourism and Friends of the Metal Man Facebook Pages and Solocheck for company information. Other sources included directors of THL interviewed by the author at their invitation while other individuals aired their views extensively on a public Facebook page which set up in March 2013 specifically to “save” the Metal Man from THL. It was deleted soon afterwards, however screenshots were taken.

Appendix

The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) is the General Lighthouse Authority for all of Ireland, its adjacent seas and islands. The Metal Man and his pillars are defunct and CIL no longer want the responsibility of them.

Tramore Tourism is a community group established in 1991 to promote Tramore and has many active members from various business sectors in the community.They were encouraged by the County Council back in 2009 to begin the process of obtaining the Metal Man.

Tramore Heritage Ltd. (THL) was a legal entity set up by Tramore Tourism to receive the Metal Man and his pillars. It is limited by guarantee, it is non-profit and public. It has also been negotiating access, planning a cliff walk to the Metal Man. Its accountant, solicitor and surveyor worked for them pro bono. If THL is ever wound up the pillars and all assets will go to the next appropriate community group.

Tramore Cultural Development (TCDL), established in 2012 it is still operational and has been recently designated a micro company, a category created as part of the Companies Act 2017

Tramore Town Council was dissolved in 2014 when the Waterford City and County Councils were amalgamated. Some Town Councillors already had a seat on the new County Council at the time of these events while some would have to fight for one.

Waterford County Council (now Waterford  City & County Council) will always have an element control over the development of this area due to planning processes. The County Council tried to get access to the Metal Man some decades ago and failed despite the willingness of the land owner at the time.

An Taisce, our version of The National Trust in the UK, which is a far more influential organisation, must be informed of any developments in areas where there are archeological, environmental or architectural concerns. Local authorities are required to consult with them on certain applications.

The Landowners are those who own the working farmland on which the Metal Man stands and naturally enough they control the access.