Have Manx seabed plans been blown off course by wind farm withdrawal?

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An energy firm’s decision to scrap its Irish Sea wind farm plans brings into question proposals for Manx waters.

As the Courier reported last week, Celtic Array, a joint venture between Centrica and Dong Energy, announced it was pulling out of all schemes in the Irish Sea zone, citing ‘challenging’ seabed conditions which it said made it ‘economically unviable with current technology’.

The news came as a shock as Celtic Array had just completed the second round of a costly statutory public consultation on its planned Rhiannon wind farm between Anglesey and the Isle of Man, which would have comprised 440 turbines generating 2.2GW of energy – enough to power 1.5 million homes.

But it has been welcomed by the Steam Packet which feared over-intensive wind farm development would have disrupted shipping lanes.

In April, Tynwald voted overwhelmingly for a strategy on offshore energy production that could see wind farms developed in Manx territorial waters. A Council of Ministers’ report suggested leasing the seabed could earn government £5m a year from each wind farm – and create at least 60 jobs.

But Chief Minister Allan Bell said those plans could be put in doubt – if unsuitable seabed conditions was the real reason for Celtic Array pulling out.

He said: ‘Clearly, this was going to be a major investment on Celtic Array’s part. They had already spent a substantial amount of money so it has come as a surprise that they have pulled out. They’ve cited seabed conditions as the only reason – whether that’s the truth or there’s more behind it remains to be seen. Wind farms are heavily dependent on UK government subsidies.

‘But if the reason specifically lies with unsuitable seabed conditions, clearly it will bring into question whether these conditions might affect the areas the Isle of Man is putting out to tender. We will need to bear that in mind.’

He added: ‘It seems strange that Celtic Array’s plans had gone so far without a full assessment of the seabed.’

It has been reported that Centrica is taking a £40m charge as a result of its decision, principally by writing off the total book value of the project.

Celtic Array had identified three potential development areas - Rhiannon in the south east, the north east which was put on hold due to concerns raised by the Steam Packet, and the south west area. All have been abandoned.

Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward said: ‘We welcome the decision by Celtic Array. For more than two years we and others have been raising serious concerns about the impact these developments could have on the Isle of Man.’

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