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An independent Association has been established to represent the concerns of Irish Coast Guard (“IRCG”) Volunteers.

As Afloat reported previously, the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association (“ICGVRA”), consisting of existing and former IRCG volunteers, was launched in Kilkee over the bank holiday weekend following a moving commemoration for IRCG volunteer Caitriona Lucas who lost her life at Kilkee on 12th September 2016.

During the ceremony, Emma Lucas, daughter of Caitriona Lucas, placed a wreath for her mother, together with John O Mahony, Chairman ICGVRA, on the clifftop beside where Caitriona died when Kilkee’s Irish Coast Guard Delta Rib capsized. ICGVRA’s launch was attended by several politicians, including Clare Oireachtas members Joe Carey T.D and Senator Roisin Garvey, Senator Gerard Craughwell (Galway), and Maurice Quinlivan T.D (Limerick), as well as international maritime lawyer, Michael Kingston. 

Many Irish Coast Guard Volunteers both past and present spoke movingly about the importance of having an independent association to represent their interests. Bernard Lucas, Vice Chairperson of ICGVRA said "Volunteers are central to the strength and capability of the Coast Guard Units and their value must be prioritised. For far too long volunteers have had no voice. The time is now to stand together for the betterment of the Coast Guard as a whole and its volunteers."

Inaugural Members of ICGVRA at launch, Kilkee, Co Clare, with (left to right) Joe Carey T.D, Senator Roisin Garvey, Maurice Quinlivan T.D, Senator Gerard Craughwell, and Michael Kingston (far right)Inaugural Members of ICGVRA at launch, Kilkee, Co Clare, with (left to right) Joe Carey T.D, Senator Roisin Garvey, Maurice Quinlivan T.D, Senator Gerard Craughwell, and Michael Kingston (far right)

ICGVRA Chairman, John O Mahony stated “In the history of the Irish Coast Guard there has never been an independent voice to speak on behalf of the Volunteers as a collective, to ensure that the well-being of volunteers from their perspective is at the heart of best practice policies within Units and in Units and volunteers’ interaction with IRCG Management. We need to be here to offer support and help to all IRCG members both past and present, to assist in resolving any issues that they may have struggled with, and to work with IRCG Management to ensure best practice prevails so that issues do not arise, if possible, in the first place. And if they do, we are here to ensure that when conflicts arise, they can be resolved objectively and transparently whilst exercising fairness and common sense. We are here to establish positive dialogue with I.R.G.C management”

A wreath laid for Caitriona Lucas, at clifftop close to where Kilkee's IRCG Delta Rib capsized on 12th September 2016, Kilkee, Co ClareA wreath laid for Caitriona Lucas, at clifftop close to where Kilkee's IRCG Delta Rib capsized on 12th September 2016, Kilkee, Co Clare

ICGVRA Secretary, Jim Griffin, who relayed to those present the aims of ICGVRA said “The formation of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association is long overdue given the events and treatment of IRCG Volunteers in recent years by H.Q. It has become apparent that IRCG management have adopted a ‘Divide and Conquer’ mentality towards the Volunteers” 

ICGVRA says it is now seeking an urgent meeting with Transport Minister, Eamonn Rayan, and has already, through Darren O Rourke T.D (Sinn Fein), raised their concerns with the Transport Minister. Joe Carey T.D (Fine Gael) and Senator Gerard Craughwell (Independent), as members of the Transport and Communications Committee (together with Darren O Rourke) confirmed they would also be raising ICGVRA’s concerns at the next Committee meeting.

Published in Coastguard
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As schools in Northern Ireland prepare for the half-term break, the RNLI and the Coastguard are reminding everyone to stay safe if they are heading to the coast or are visiting the local inland waterways as the autumn sets in.

During last year’s half-term holidays, RNLI lifeboats across Ireland and the UK launched 143 times and aided 78 people as its volunteer crews dealt with everything from tidal cut-offs and struggling paddleboarders to slips and trips on coastal paths, as well as vessels in distress.

Lisa Hollingum, RNLI Water Safety Delivery Support said: ‘With the best of the weather behind us for the year, we’re asking those visiting the coast and inland waterways this half-term to consider the dangers.

‘Our lifeboats often rescue those cut off by the tide on coastal walks, so we encourage you to check the tide times and ensure you have planned to get back safely before the water level rises.

‘For those planning a coastal walk, also consider the terrain as what may seem like firm ground can, in fact, be very soft sand or mud meaning that people might get stuck.

‘If you are cruising on the inland waterways, plan your journey, and be aware of the shorter evenings so that you leave enough time to reach your overnight mooring.

‘Over the coming months, sea and lake conditions will become rougher and more unpredictable which brings many additional dangers. Large waves will break on the shoreline which increases the risk of people being swept off their feet, along with coastal erosion causing cliff falls making some areas more dangerous.

‘Around 140 people lose their lives around Irish and UK coasts, including on inland waterways each year, and over half never even planned to enter the water. If you do find yourself in the water unexpectedly, FLOAT to live by fighting your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and float until you gain control of your breathing, before deciding whether to call for help or swim to safety.’

Claire Hughes, Director of HM Coastguard, said: ‘Autumn is a perfect time to explore the coastal areas and inland waterways around the UK, the summer crowds have gone and the weather is ideal for a walk. However, the sunshine can quickly vanish making the temperature much colder and the lifeguards who were present in peak season are no longer on most beaches. It is vital at this time of year to be prepared before you head to the coast.

‘As always, we are ready to deal with emergency situations but please take note of safety advice and don’t take risks. If you see anybody in trouble, don’t enter the water yourself to try and rescue them, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’

The RNLI’s key coastal safety advice is:

  • Have a plan - check the weather forecast, tide times, read local hazard signage and let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back
  • Keep a close eye on your family and keep dogs on a lead near the edge of cliffs
  • If walking or running be aware that coastal paths, promenades and piers may be slippery or prone to waves breaking over them
  • If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT to Live. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back and relax, extending your arms and legs
  • In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard
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Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said his department will cover “reasonable legal expenses” incurred by the families of the four Rescue 116 air crew who died off North Mayo in relation to a review of the draft final Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report.

In a statement issued this Thursday evening, Mr Ryan said he had written to the families of the crew of R116 that afternoon.

He said he had “ let them know that the Department of Transport will cover their reasonable legal expenses incurred as a result of the Review into the accident in which their loved ones lost their lives”.

Pilots Dara Fitzpatrick and Mark Duffy and winch team Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith died when their Sikorsky S-92 crashed at Blackrock island off north Mayo in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

The four crew were employed by CHC Ireland which holds the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract.

The AAIU issued a preliminary and interim reports, and sent its draft final report to “interested parties” in September 2019 with a 60-day window for submissions and comments.

However, in March 2020, former transport minister permitted the establishment of a review board to examine certain findings in the draft final report before publication, following a request from one of the parties.

A review board, chaired by senior counsel Patrick McCann, was established under Regulation 16 of Air Navigation Regulations 2009.

The Irish Airline Pilots Association and European Cockpit Association were critical of this decision as being against the international norm, which seeks to ensure investigations are published within a timeframe to improve safety.

The AAIU does not apportion blame, and this was the first time its draft final report had been subject to such a review.

Earlier this week, RTÉ Investigates reported that three of the four families were obliged to pay for their own legal representation in the review which had been sought by the air crews’ employer, CHC Ireland, and had incurred substantial costs.

Ryan said that “the chairman of the Review board wrote to me with a recommendation that the reasonable legal costs of the families be covered”.

“I was happy to accept this recommendation and asked my officials to work on a mechanism to resolve the issue,” he said.

“The families of the crew did not ask for the review and were placed in a position of having to contribute to a complex process to ensure their loved ones’ interests were fully represented,”Ryan said.

“While the Department of Transport argued before the review board that it did not have authority to make an order on costs, this was done because of the broader implications that such a ruling might have in future,” he said.

“ This was never intended to imply a reluctance to pay these costs, and the additional stress this may have caused is regretted,” he said.

“In writing to the families, I am also conscious that they will shortly receive the final report of the investigation into the accident, a moment which is bound to be difficult for all concerned,” he said.

“Today we remember the service of pilot Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Mark Duffy, winchman Ciarn Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby who gave their lives in the courageous pursuit of protecting others,” Ryan said.

Published in Coastguard
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The new Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association will be announced on Saturday at a meeting in Kilkee, Co.Clare.

It is the first association established to represent Coast Guard volunteers and its organisers say it consists of existing and former volunteers from around the coast.

There has been controversy over allegations by Coast Guard volunteers at several locations of "poor treatment" and of disciplinary action following any disagreement with management over operational issues.

Management has denied the allegations and pointed to the introduction of new systems and reforms.

The new Association will be asking for the issues to be addressed by the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, under whose Department the Coast Guard operates.

It says it will work with Coast Guard Management to "provide a high-quality emergency service which always provides the best response for those who are in need of assistance" and that it wants to "promote the health, safety and well-being of volunteers within Irish Coast Guard Units, to promote openness, fairness and transparency within IRCG Units in the interaction between volunteers and Management"

Published in Coastguard
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In the early evening of Saturday, 2nd October, Belfast Coastguard put out a MAYDAY in response to a 20ft yacht with four people on board reportedly taking on water and without power, a mile north of Corsewall Point, at the mouth of Loch Ryan on the southwest coast of Scotland.

The Stena Superfast VIII, the ro-ro/passenger ferry between Belfast and Cairnryan on Loch Ryan, passed and responded. They launched their fast rescue craft and stood by the vessel until the arrival of Portpatrick and Stranraer RNLI lifeboats. The craft was assisted to Stranraer marina by the lifeboats.

Belfast Coastguard, with Headquarters in Bangor on Belfast Lough, coordinates Search and Rescue for Northern Ireland, Southwest Scotland and North West England. They commented, "We are very grateful for the swift and professional response from Superfast VIII and at no time was the ferry or its passengers or crew in any danger".

Published in Ferry
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The outgoing head of the Irish Coast Guard Chris Reynolds has said he has nothing against the Air Corps returning to search and rescue if it can guarantee it is available “24/7”.

In an interview with The Sunday Independent, Reynolds, who is head of the European Union Capacity Building Mission in Somalia, confirmed that the Department of Transport turned down his application for extended leave of absence to September 2022.

Last week, he confirmed he was leaving the Irish Coast Guard to stay on as head of the EU mission in Somalia.

Reynolds, a former Naval Service officer who was appointed to head the Irish Coast Guard in 2007, was seconded to Somalia with the EU in July 2016.

However, he spent 15 months back in Ireland with the Coast Guard after the Rescue 116 crash in March 2017, and before his promotion from deputy to director of the EU mission in 2019.

“I knew I had to come home – it was a traumatic time for the families of the four aircrew and for everyone in the Irish Coast Guard,” he said.

Reynolds said that relations between him and the department were so poor that he was initially prevented from visiting Irish Coast Guard stations on his own without a civil servant.

Reynolds said that he had argued as far back as 2011/12 for more resources for the Irish Coast Guard.

“I had identified that the organisation was deficient in health and safety, in resources and aviation expertise, and all of these areas have now been addressed,” he said.

“After the helicopter crash, the department had the stark choice of resourcing it or closing it down.”

“The case I had made for extra staff and funding was granted, and I am happy that I was able to put the Irish Coast Guard back together again,” he said.

As part of its fleet, the Air Corps currently operates two Casa CN 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. These aircraft entered service in 1994 and operate seven days a week usually in the offshore maritime patrol arena.As part of its fleet, the Air Corps currently operates two Casa CN 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. These aircraft entered service in 1994 and operate seven days a week usually in the offshore maritime patrol arena. Photo: Air Corps

Reynolds said he also approached the then Tánaiste Simon Coveney about merging the Irish Coast Guard with the Naval Service.

Since the Government began plans for a new search and rescue contract for the Irish Coast Guard, Reynolds has been critical publicly of the Air Corps bid to become involved.

The Air Corps was withdrawn from search and rescue in 2004. At the time, its crews were based in Sligo, with three other search and rescue bases run on contract.

Currently, all four bases are contracted to CHC Ireland, and a service level agreement with the Air Corps is for aircraft “as and when available”.

Late last month, the Government signalled it would proceed with formal procurement for a new contract in October, and indicated that the Air Corps could provide a fixed-wing element to the Coast Guard’s overall aviation service.

“The point is that the Air Corps has to be able to guarantee it is there 24/7, 365 days a year,” Reynolds said.

In March 2017, the Air Corps was not able to provide a Casa maritime patrol aircraft when it was asked to provide top cover for the Sligo-based Irish Coast Guard helicopter in a medical evacuation 250 km west of Mayo.

The Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew was then tasked to provide top cover and crashed at Blackrock island – claiming the lives of all four crew, two of whom are still missing.

Read The Sunday Independent here

Published in Coastguard
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The rescue of cousins Sara Feeney (23) and Ellen Glynn (17) after being swept out to sea on paddleboards captured the attention of the country last August. How a balmy summer's evening quickly turned into a nightmare for the cousins' parents onshore, to the quick-witted reaction of the two women to lash the boards together, to the fishermen who realised the initial search was too focused on inner Galway Bay.

A story of endurance as Sara and Ellen survived 15 hours at sea, and the tears of relief among hundreds of volunteers searching the Galway and Clare coastlines and in Galway RNLI lifeboat station, where the volunteer crews have recovered more bodies than most of them care to remember.

When 23-year old NUI Galway graduate Sara Feeney and her 17-year old cousin Ellen Glynn set out for a short spin on paddleboards one evening in mid-August 2020, they only expected to be on the water for a short time.

Covid-19 restrictions had prevented them from going to their closest beach at Silver Strand on north Galway Bay, so they drove out with Sara's mum Helen to Furbo beach, 12 km west of Galway city.

There were swimmers in the water, enjoying the heat in fading light as they pumped up the inflatable boards and took to the water at around 9.30pm.

Sara's mum Helen walked her dog, Otis, along the short shoreline. Within a short space of time she wondered why she couldn't see the cousins on the water.

Little did she know at that time that the two women were shouting and frantically waving their paddles, unable to make it back to shore.

The northerly breeze had turned north-easterly and gained in strength, and the two women had no means of communication – Ellen had forgotten her wet bag that normally carried her mobile phone. They were wearing lifejackets, but no wetsuits – only bikinis – and had no food or water.

Realising they were in danger of being separated, the two women strapped their boards together. Back on shore, Helen Feeney had dialled the emergency services and had been put through to the Irish Coast Guard.

For a time, the two women remained confident that they would be located and were initially only worried about all the trouble they would have caused. As darkness fell and the hours passed, they spotted boats and a helicopter coming close enough to light up the sea around them, but in the vast sea area, they could neither be seen nor heard.

Shooting stars and bioluminescence lifted their spirits briefly, and Ellen sang every Taylor Swift song that she knew. Conditions worsened, with heavy rain. When a lightning storm forced an Irish Coast Guard helicopter to fly off to the north, they knew they would have to try and survive the night. By now, they were clinging to their boards in a heavy swell.

As the fog lifted well after dawn, they realised just how much trouble they were in, with the Cliffs of Mother just south of them, the Aran island of Inis Oírr to the north, and the Atlantic to the west.

They had been carried all of 18 nautical miles or 33 kilometres diagonally across Galway Bay and out into the ocean. A chance sighting of floats attached to crab pots set by Aran fisherman Bertie Donohue saved them from drifting further.

When they were located by Galway fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan in their catamaran, Johnny Ó, the two women had been the focus of a major air/sea search co-ordinated by Valentia Coast Guard and had spent 15 hours at sea. "We found them, but they saved themselves," Patrick Oliver would say later.

Fishermen Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan located the girlsFishermen Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan located the girls

This documentary features interviews with Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn and their families one year on, speaking also to key people involved in their rescue, recalling how a balmy evening turned into a long, dark terrifying 15 hours that will be remembered as the miracle of Galway Bay.

Narrated by Lorna Siggins

Produced by Lorna Siggins and Sarah Blake

Sound Supervision by John Doyle and Peadar Carney

Available for podcast on Thursday 29th July

Broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday 1st August @ 6pm, Monday 2nd August @ 3pm, and Tuesday 3rd August @ 10pm

Published in Rescue

The government today (27 July 2021) agreed to commence the formal procurement process for a new Coast Guard aviation service in October next. The service is currently contracted to CHC Ireland and may be extended up to June 2025 at the latest. The decision was based on a detailed appraisal and business case prepared by KPMG for the Department of Transport, and was brought to Government by the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, T.D.

The business case brought to Government set out the strategic case for a new service, considered the range of options for how such a service could be delivered, including the potential for the Air Corps to provide an element of the service as a “hybrid” option alongside another civil operator. It also sets out an implementation plan to achieve the desired service.

The detailed appraisal included a financial and economic appraisal of short-listed options, with an assessment of costs, benefits, affordability, deliverability, risks and sensitivities associated with the options. The approval of the business case is one of the key steps required in the Public Spending Code (PSC). Details of the procurement will be announced in October when the formal Pre-Qualification requirements for tendering will be published.

Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D proceeding to tender based on a business caseMinister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D proceeding to tender based on a business case

Commenting on the decision, Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D. said: “After a lengthy deliberative process, I am glad we now have a decision to proceed to tender based on a business case which has considered all relevant aspects involved including its core SAR role but also the important secondary benefits to be derived from the service including supports to the island communities and the Health Service Executive. The report considered all the various options for how the service can be best delivered, the demand drivers and the changing technological and market environment in which this procurement will be set. This is a costly but vital service to the State and it is important that we optimise the benefits to be derived from it”.

The Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, T.D welcomed the decision and the fact that it provides for the possibility of the Air Corps providing a new fixed wing element as part of the Coast Guard’s overall aviation service: “My Department and the Air Corps, working in close consultation with the Irish Coast Guard over the next two and a half months, will look at how the Air Corps might provide a dedicated fixed wing element of the service which meets the requirements and parameters which are now clearly set out in the business case”.

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton T.D. also welcomed the decision and thanked those stakeholders across the SAR system and the relevant Departments and state entities who have informed the deliberations on this process to date. “The decision paves the way for the procurement of this vital element of our Search and Rescue system over a 10 year period. The timelines and procurement strategy agreed today will ensure a seamless transition from the existing contract with CHCI. It will also offer the potential to avail of developments in technology since the last contract was let in 2010 and to build on the experience and lessons learnt over the last 10 years.”

She added: “The process of consultation and deliberation started over 18 months ago and has included extensive discussions with state and voluntary organisations involved and reliant to one degree or another on the Irish Coast Guard’s aviation service. Their views have helped to inform and shape the scope and nature of the new service which KPMG’s business case has appraised and costed”.

The formal procurement documentation will describe the expectations and requirements for the pre-qualification stage of the procurement. This will be published by end October next when the formal procurement is launched.

Based on the business case analysis, the new service is expected to benefit from some new elements including a dedicated fixed-wing component to provide the IRCG with an on-call pollution monitoring, high endurance search and top cover capability. It also has the potential to allow a more innovative helicopter fleet. The helicopter element will include night vision capability from the outset. From a competitive perspective, the procurement will benefit from a more extensive range of potential helicopter solutions than would have been on the market in 2010.

The current service already provides significant secondary services to the HSE and the National Ambulance Services and medical evacuation services to the island communities. The service scoped in the business case will continue to deliver these ancillary services and has the potential to deliver more supports to the HSE and additional fire-fighting capability to the Department of Housing / Fire Services. These aspects will be subject to further discussion with those services as the procurement strategy advances.

The cost of the existing contract is in the region of €60m a year. The analysis concludes that the estimated costs for a new service could be similar although the precise costings set out in the business case are premised on a number of different assumptions and based on a different model to the current one. The costings are confidential and commercially sensitive. The actual cost will only be known once the tenders have been received, evaluated and Government awards the tender – expected to be in March 2023.

Published in Coastguard
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Bangor Coastguard Rescue Team didn't have far to travel to answer a report today (21st June) of a vessel aground on the rocks at Brompton on the opposite side of Bangor Bay from the Belfast Lough station.

Winds were strong from the North with rough seas and breaking waves.

The team managed to contact the owner, who arrived a short time later.

All belongings, engine and fuel were removed from the vessel by the owner, and the hope was that it could be refloated at the next high tide.

Published in Coastguard
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In early June, an inflatable kayak that had been seen washed onto rocks at Orlock near Groomsport on the North Down coast sparked a full search of the area by Bangor Coastguard Rescue Team, Portaferry CRT, the Donaghadee Saxon Lifeboat and the Bangor B Class Atlantic 8 Lifeboat.

The kayak was in very good condition and had not been there for long. On arrival at the location, the team took photographs and sent them to Belfast Coastguard after which a full search was requested.

Belfast Coastguard also made a Facebook appeal for the owner and as the search unfolded the owner was located safe and well. The kayak had been lost earlier in the evening due to an incident, but no one was injured.

The team took the kayak back to the car park for collection by the owner who was given advice. Bangor CRT emphasises, " If you lose an object in or near the sea report it to the Coastguard. Thanks to the members of the public that rang 999".

Published in Coastguard
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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.

©Afloat 2020

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