When is an Offshore Wind farm really an Onshore Wind farm?
When it’s on somebody else’s shore!
Last week saw the signing of an historic Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of the UK and Republic of Ireland that would potentially see windfarms constructed in Ireland but supplying electricity to British consumers.
According to the two governments, the MoU will lead to feasibility studies looking at projects that will “seek to achieve more cost efficient uses of resources, drive down deployment costs, be sustainable in the long term, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels“.
The plan is being hailed in some quarters as giving the UK all the advantages of offshore wind energy generation – the ability to build high-output large turbines without the planning issues associated with onshore wind energy – minus the high costs and risk of actually having to undertake offshore construction.
Tim Cowhig, CEO of Element Power, one of the companies looking to take advantage of this opportunity told sustainable business website Business Green last year: “We reckon you could realise a saving of £7bn compared to delivering an offshore wind farm of the same size.”
The fine policy details surrounding such an undertaking still need to be worked out. In particular, developers will want an assurance that electricity generated by wind turbines in Ireland will attract the same favourable rate of payment from the UK National Grid as that supplied from British-based renewable sources. It is likely that the British government will wish to give whatever guarantees are necessary in order bring Irish wind energy online in time to help it meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets.
The proposals have been the subject of criticism from a number of sources. Firstly, there are objections to the construction of what are likely to be some of the largest turbines ever seen – the area of the Irish Midlands earmarked for the project has low wind speeds near ground level – especially as Irish consumers will not be benefitting from the electricity they generate. Opponents of the scheme suspect that UK government Ministers see the construction of generating capacity in Ireland as a neat way of avoiding opposition to windfarms at home. Andrew Duncan, spokesman for the Lakelands Wind Information Group, who are opposing the proposed development, said: “It seems to be an Irish solution to a British problem – politically they don’t want turbines on the British countryside, they are under a lot of pressure from the general public over there and it seems they want to impose these wind farms on the Irish general public instead.”
The New Statesman criticised that scheme with a headline reading: “Wind farm nimbyism means 10,000 jobs just went to Ireland” and adding “the majority of Brits who favour wind power may question why they are paying for jobs in Ireland when unemployment is still at 7.7 per cent at home.”
This does seem to sum up the coalition government’s attitude to environmental matters in general. They seem to be viewed as either an unnecessary restriction on growth or, at best, a necessary evil that should not be allowed to distract for any longer than absolutely necessary from the serious business of trying to get the economy back to “business as usual”.
This is a pity, because it is just this type of green infrastructure development that would aid the UK economy’s recovery from what looks likely to be confirmed as the first “triple-dip” recession on record, caused primarily by a decline in output in the manufacturing sector.
Peter Tyldesley is a Chartered Surveyor and former Director of Countryside & Land Management at the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. He currently runs the Bradgate Park & Swithland Wood Charity, which owns and manages Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. As well as running the 500-hectare estate as a visitor attraction, the Charity’s aims include educating the public in the appreciation and care of the environment. Peter is a trained coach and mentor with a passion for re-connecting people with the natural world.