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North Channel Wind are Meeting with Key Stakeholders Over Floating Windfarms

1st May 2023
An artist's impression of a floating wind turbine
An artist's impression of a floating wind turbine

North Channel Wind which has Headquarters in Belfast, is a co-development agreement between SBM Offshore, based in the Netherlands, and Irish-based developer NMK Renewables, for a pair of floating wind farms in the North Channel. Although North Channel Wind has an impressive website (North Channel Wind) it was strange that any detailed discussion only became apparent last weekend and surprised the boating fraternity of Belfast Lough. In fact, it was a chance remark by a fisherman to the Commodore of Cockle Island Boat Club which started it all.

The North Channel joins the Irish Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. The Sea of Moyle is the name given to the narrowest expanse of water in the North Channel between north-eastern Northern Ireland (County Antrim) and the Mull of Kintyre in the southwest of Scotland, and that is about 12 miles. Between Donaghadee on the North Down Coast and Portpatrick on the Mull of Galloway is about 20 miles. The projects, (North Channel Wind 1 & 2), will be located between 6 miles and 15 miles from shore in approximately 400 feet of water depth and as precise sites have not yet been determined, consideration will be given to the existence of the offshore dump site in the 30-mile long Beaufort's Dyke for surplus conventional and chemical weapons after WW II.

The proposed location of the wind farms in the North ChannelThe proposed location of the wind farms in the North Channel

In the briefing document given to Afloat, North Channel Wind project director Niamh Kenny says proposals for a pair of floating wind farms in the Irish Sea off the coasts of Antrim and North Down could see Northern Ireland benefit from much-improved energy security. In addition, Northern Ireland could be in a position to become a net exporter of clean electricity.

It adds “Offshore wind capacity is critical to NI’s target of reaching 80% renewable electricity by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2035. Department for Economy figures released last month show that Northern Ireland generated 51% of all electricity through renewables in 2022. Energy security and the climate emergency are now the main drivers of the transition from imported fossil fuels to home-grown renewables”.

As it is widely understood that the climate emergency is upon us, North Channel Wind suggests we must embrace new forms of clean electricity generation, and one solution is floating turbines in the North Channel. But the support of all communities through consultation, ensuring environmental protection of the seabed and minimising the impact of turbines on natural habitats is, the document says, the only way to progress.

It is understood that North Channel Wind is engaging positively with Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy and Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, which has jurisdiction over marine licencing required to install turbines and cabling to shore.  

When John Cathcart, Hon Secretary of Cockle Island Boat Club at Groomsport on the North Down coast, heard of the proposal, he wrote to the company, “I note from the North Channel Wind website that the company has engaged with a representative of commercial fishermen who may be affected by the project. Is it the company's intention to engage with representative(s) of recreational boaters who may also be affected by the project?” He continued, “Since the project has implications for all recreational watercraft users in the Belfast Lough, Larne Lough and North Channel areas, I suggest that, rather than engaging with individual clubs, North Channel Wind should engage with the established representative bodies, Belfast Lough Yachting Conference and the Royal Yachting Association N Ireland”. In fact, RYANI has confirmed they hope to meet with North Channel Wind soon.

It has been indicated that consultations will take place at the end of May at the Gobbins, probably in the Visitor Centre and at Carnlough on the Antrim Coast and in Bangor on Belfast Lough. Engagements with fishing representatives have begun in Glasgow.

Ms Kenny says if it were to go ahead, the development could be a game changer for Northern Ireland, representing a significant proportion of its energy needs. The power from these would be cabled to shore connecting to the grid at a location currently under consideration”.

North Channel Wind’s new floating technologies significantly reduce environmental impact during installation and operation when compared to conventional turbines whose foundations are piled into the seabed.   

North Channel Wind had embarked on a series of meetings with key stakeholders, including the fishing community, local interest groups and other marine users. A series of further consultations with local communities is planned for late May/early June at the Gobbins (most likely in the Visitor Centre) and Carnlough on the Antrim Coast and in Bangor on Belfast Lough. Initial talks with the Ards and North Down Council have taken place.

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down

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Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.


The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

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