Draft South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan for ORE published

The IWDG has recently been involved in the ongoing public consultation by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communication on the draft South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan. CEO Dr Simon Berrow sat on a panel discussion with DECC officials and others in Waterford, while Marine Policy Officer Dr Stephen Comerford sat on similar panels in Cork and Wexford. The IWDG were there at the invitation of DECC to give our thoughts on the new draft DMAP and to answer questions from the audience on the marine environment and the potential interactions between ORE and whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Pictured at the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications panel discussion on the new draft South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan in Cork on Thursday were Dr Paul Hegarty, Head of College NMCI, Dr Stephen Comerford, Marine Policy Officer IWDG, and Johanna Murphy, Chair of Cobh and Harbour Chamber Energy and Infrastructure Committee.

The draft DMAP document sets out the framework for the development of Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) in the Celtic Sea in the coming decades and shows the four sites chosen for potential ORE development for the first time. The first one to be developed will be off the Waterford coast and is called “Tonn Nua”.  When the site is allocated following auction, it is expected that a 900MW farm will be proposed and current technology indicates a 60-turbine windfarm of 15MW each, using 65% of the designated site. The windfarm, when built, will be at closest over 12.2km offshore, and will be visible from land. It is a relatively deepwater site ranging in depth from 57-69m, and is at the outer limits of depth for fixed-bottom windfarms. The other three sites are to the east and further offshore in deeper waters.

The constraints mapping exercise which resulted in these sites being chosen began with environmental layers such as protected sites, birds, marine mammals, benthic habitats, and fish. Human activities were also included such as commercial fishing, tourism and leisure, and shipping. Some areas were excluded outright because of depth or the presence of bedrock. Finally the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) layer was added, which gives a measure of the cost of developing a windfarm at a particular site. The outcome seeks to minimise disruption to the environment and human activities while still choosing areas where it is financially viable to build a windfarm.

Pictured at the recent Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications panel discussion on the South Coast DMAP in Waterford are Robert Fennelly, Planning Advisory, DECC, Dr Simon Berrow, CEO of IWDG, and Paul Gallagher, Assistant Principal Officer, Long Term Strategic Planning Division, DECC.

The draft South Coast DMAP document includes a number of key additional measures for future windfarm development in the Celtic Sea which go beyond the developer-led approach taken for the Phase I projects (five in the Irish Sea and one off Connemara). Regional level bird and marine mammal surveys will be carried out which will give a more granular understanding of the marine ecosystem and will bridge the gap between the plan-level strategic environmental assessment and site-specific project level surveys. The regional level surveys will be informed by an expert Marine Ecosystem and Ornithology Working Group and the IWDG welcomes this state-led initiative to increase our knowledge of the seas around us. Also included is a shared data repository for all environmental data generated throughout this process, including developers’ data. The repository will be open access to everyone and will be of great interest to academia and NGOs, providing opportunity for meaningful research. There will be a new research partnership between DECC and the Marine Institute, the outputs from which will inform future planning and strengthen our understanding of the interactions between ORE and the environment.

As ever the IWDG encourages members and all those interested in marine conservation to have their views included in planning decisions and the DMAP process. Public consultation on the draft plan is open until 14 June and all of the documents relating to the DMAP, and details about how to attend an event of make a submission, are available at https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/72a5c-south-coast-designated-maritime-area-plan-for-offshore-renewable-energy/.