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Need For Reform - Ireland: Offshore Wind Current Developments

Foreshore leases granted

Under the undemocratic and outdated Foreshore Act 1933, long acknowledged to be in urgent need of reform, foreshore leases have been granted by successive Ministers for the Marine for construction of two of the biggest offshore wind farms in the world in Wicklow’s near-shore zone.

  • The 520MW Arklow Bank Wind Park (200 turbines) Foreshore Lease awarded by Minister Frank Fahey, January 2002
  • The 1100MW Codling Wind Park (220 turbines) Foreshore Lease awarded by Minister Noel Dempsey, November 2005

These two wind farms will involve a total of over 400 massive turbines, up to 160 m/530 feet high stretching along the Wicklow coastline from Bray Head to N. Wexford. The windfarms, as close as 10/12km to shore, will change the character and quality of the coastal landscape designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wicklow’s County Development Plan.

As the Foreshore Act 1933 allows, these leases, with widespread environmental, economic and social implications were awarded by the Minister for the Marine with

  • no statutory involvement of local authorities
  • no public right of appeal against the Minister’s decision

Local residents and their public representatives had no control over these extensive industrial developments which were permitted off their coastline, in a planning vacuum. In fact because of the low key way in which applications were handled, the vast majority of local people are unaware of the vast and inappropriate size of the development which has been permitted off their coast.

The manner in which these offshore wind farms were approved off Wicklow under outdated legislation raises very significant questions concerning the governance of our coastal zone (Details here). It is a matter of particular concern that, in stark contrast to international best practice, no independent professional analysis has been made of the cumulative visual impact of these developments on the unspoilt Wicklow coastline, a key part of the county’s heritage and economy.

Foreshore leases for offshore wind farms are extremely valuable commodities which can be sold on to international power companies. The leases for Arklow Bank and Codling Bank, awarded to Irish developers, were sold on to international power companies in 2008 at a price based on the size of the development permitted, producing very significant monetary return for the original promoters.

Of the total 1620MW permitted, just 25MW has been erected on the Arklow Bank. This consists of seven turbines built, owned and operated by General Electric, the US multinational, as a test facility for its 3.6MW turbines. It is worth noting that GE has not been permitted to erect any wind turbines in US waters. In fact no offshore wind farms have yet been installed in the US, pending an overhaul of the permitting system for offshore developments. This overhaul was prompted by widespread concern about the impact of the first US offshore wind farm, a 460MW project with 130 turbines, proposed by a private developer in Nantucket Sound in 2001. See Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Foreshore lease applications

Developers seeking valuable foreshore leases have lodged applications for permission to construct four more extensive offshore wind farms in Ireland’s inshore zone. Consultation on the first two projects has closed while consultation on the second two had not opened at end 2009.

  • Louth: 330MW Oriel Wind Farm, ( Dundalk Bay ) 55 turbines
  • Galway: 100MW Skerd Rocks (Galway Bay) 20 turbines
  • Dublin: 520MW Kish/Bray Bank Wind Farm, (Dublin Bay/Killiney Bay) 145 turbines.
  • Wicklow: 1000MW Codling Wind Park 2 (Wicklow Bay) 200 turbines

Foreshore licence applications

The first step in obtaining a foreshore lease for construction of an offshore wind farm, is to obtain a foreshore licence for initial site investigation

On 14 February 2008, Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for Communications Marine and Natural Resources, announced substantial price supports for offshore wind. This had the effect of immediately increasing the value of the extensive foreshore leases granted for Arklow Bank and Codling Bank under the Foreshore Act 1933. Around the time of this announcement, there was a rush by developers to stake their claims to potential sites in Ireland’s near shore waters mostly off the east coast. Wicklow (5 applications) and Wexford (6) were key targets. The attached list provided by the Government’s Coastal Zone Management Division gives brief outline details of applications for foreshore licences for site investigations (pdf).

Conditions which surrounded the issuing of foreshore leases and licences are set out in Offshore Electricity Generating Stations - Note for Intending Developers (May 2001), a key document issued by the Department of the Marine.