In a drive to combat climate change by reducing CO2 emissions and lessen man’s reliance on fossil fuels, the sea is now being explored as a potential source of renewable energy - wind, wave and tidal.
Offshore wind is the most technically advanced of these technologies. Because appropriate wind farms sites on land have become scarce, attention in some EU countries has switched to the seas where, it is hoped, large scale developments can be sited far from shore with less planning difficulties arising from visual impact and greater energy yields due to strong offshore winds.
Offshore wind farms bring their own particular problems not least the high cost involved in construction, maintenance and grid integration and potential negative impact on coastal environment.
IRELAND - A DANGEROUS LEGACY?
During the past decade there has been widespread acknowledgement of regulatory and legislative failure in Ireland’s land-based planning system. This resulted in major problems such as developer-led planning, over zoning of lands, building on flood plains, sub-standard construction etc.
Similar legislative and regulatory inadequacies, compounded by a massive democratic deficit, underlie government management of construction and development in our coastal zone. The results of these planning issues have not yet come to light publicly, because the offshore developments permitted have not yet been constructed. However, government are clearly aware of these legacy issues and their implications for Ireland's east coast near-shore zone. Failure to address these issues is now endangering Ireland's marine biodiversity and coastal landscapes.
The central issues are:
that the Irish Government failed to update inadequate and outdated legislation (Foreshore Act 1933) governing construction at sea
that they failed to designate 10% of our seas as Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by 2020, as promised, and achieved by other EU member states.
that they awarded foreshore leases for construction of two of the biggest offshore wind farms in the world, 10/12km of the coastline of County Wicklow (520MW Arklow Bank Wind Park, 2002; 1100MW Codling Wind Park, 2005)
that they allowed private developers to pick out near-shore sites on a 'first-come-first-served' basis and lay claim to additional large areas of the foreshore by applying for foreshore licenses to investigate the suitability of these areas for offshore wind development.
that in May 2020, in advance of legislative reform and the adoption of a Marine Spatial Plan, the government announced the designation of seven of these 'legacy' projects (off the east coast and in Galway Bay) as 'Relevant Projects' for priority advancement under proposed new marine planning legislation.
The outdated Foreshore Act 1933 still remains in place in 2021. Only 2% of our seas have been designated as MPAs. The vast majority of Irish people are unaware of the large scale developments which have been permitted in State-owned waters, without any democratic control.