A very real threat to our sea-going lifeline

CUTTING US OFF: The proposed windfarms

CUTTING US OFF: The proposed windfarms

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ASK difficult questions of the wind farm developers if you want to protect lifeline ferry services.

That’s the message to residents and members of the business community who are being urged to attend a series of public exhibitions being held in the island into controversial renewable energy schemes planned in the Irish Sea.

Vote on this issue using the web poll panel at the right of this story.

As part of its first formal stage of a consultation into the Rhiannon Wind Farm plan, energy firm Celtic Array is holding three public exhibitions, starting at the Mount Tabor Methodist church hall in Port St Mary tomorrow (Friday, November 30) then moving to the Manx Museum in Douglas on Saturday and Ramsey town hall in Monday.

Rhiannon is one of three sites being proposed as a potential development area within the Irish Sea zone and would have a capacity to produce 2.2 GW of energy.

And at a press conference held on Monday, Infrastructure Minister David Cretney MHK joined forces with Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward, Mike Hennessy, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, Theo Fleurbaay, chairman of the Manx Hospitality Forum, and Brendan O’Friel, chairman of passenger watchdog TravelWatch, to express their concerns over the impact these proposals could have on lifeline ferry services.

Critics fear the cumulative effect of all the current and proposed wind farms, together with the Morecambe Bay gas field platforms, will restrict sea routes and lead to a greater likelihood of cancelled and delayed sailings, particularly in bad weather – as well as increased journey times and costs.

Mr Cretney said the proposals, while they all lay outside Manx territorial waters, would have a significant impact on shipping routes and added ‘the wind farms were not just an issue for the Steam Packet Company. There was potentially an impact for everyone who lived or did business in the Isle of Man.’

Mr Woodward said the map of wind farms, actual and proposed, painted a ‘disturbing picture’ for every resident, business and visitor to the island.

Celtic Array’s proposed North East zone wind farm would cut straight across the Steam Packet’s Heysham and Liverpool routes. And the gap between the proposed Walney Extension and the northerly point of the NE zone is just 3.8 nautical miles.

Mr Woodward said if the NE zone went ahead, passage times to Liverpool would increase by 11 minutes for a fast craft, and by 21 minutes on a conventional ship. In bad weather, an extra 1 hour and seven minutes could be added to sailings times to Heysham. Return sailings on an extra 20 days could be lost due to bad weather between October and February.

But he claimed the ferry operator’s concerns had ‘largely been ignored to date’ by Celtic Array.

‘We are not against developing renewable energy but not at the expense of long-established lifeline routes,’ he added.

Mr O’Friel said it was the effect on all the developments which was the ‘real threat’.

He said that maps displayed at Celtic Array’s previous public information days had not shown existing sea routes. He urged people not to be fooled.

‘Ask difficult questions of the developers so our ferry routes are properly protected,’ he urged the public.

Mr Hennessy said the food shortages resulting from ferry cancellations during last winter’s storms could be a precursor to what could follow if the wind farms were built.

‘Our way of life will be forced to be fundamentally realigned,’ he said.

In Tynwald last week, Chief Minister Allan Bell said Celtic Array, a joint venture between Centrica and Dong Energy, had delayed plans for the NE zone following pressure from the Manx government.

But Mr Woodward told this week’s press conference that while the developer had no doubt given that assurance, this was more to do with their own planning issues than any great change of heart.

He said that if Celtic Array continued with the Rhiannon wind farm plan but abandoned the North East zone then a pragmatic view would be that ‘we will have got away very lightly’.

It will be the UK’s planning inspectorate that will have the final say on whether each of the planned wind farms go ahead.

The public exhibitions at Port St Mary on Friday will run between 11am to 7pm, at the Manx Museum in Douglas on Saturday from 10am to 5pm and at Ramsey town hall on Monday from 11am to 7pm.

Vote on this issue using the web poll panel at the right of this story.

In a statement, Celtic Array said it took concerns about its proposed wind farm developments ‘extremely seriously’.

It said: ‘We are aware of concerns in relation to the proposed wind farm developments in the Irish Sea Zone and of their importance to the Isle of Man.  We take the concerns extremely seriously and are considering them.

‘We will remain closely engaged with stakeholder groups on the Isle of Man and we wish to reiterate that no formal proposal will be submitted in the North East Area without further engagement and formal pre-application consultation with all stakeholders.

‘We will be hosting three public consultation exhibitions on the Isle of Man regarding the proposed Rhiannon wind farm in the South East of the Irish Sea Zone, commencing this Friday (November 30) in Port St Mary.’

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