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Val Cummins, MD Simply Blue Group, Gordon Shearer, Shell, and Hugh Kelly, Chief Commercial Director, Simply Blue Group, at Loop Head lighthouse announcing the Western Star floating wind project last summer. Photograph by Diane Cusack

Clare must be front and centre for wind power, say councillors

ESB Apprentice Moneypoint

IRELAND finds itself in a prime position to be a global leader in climate action, and that position may find its beginning off the coast of Clare, writes Conor Colhessy.

That’s according to Councillor Joe Killeen who pointed out the combination of west coast wind and Moneypoint infrastructure that puts Clare in a leading position.

The European Union aims to be climate-neutral by 2050, becoming an economy with net-zero greenhouse gases, an objective at the heart of the European Green Deal.

In order to substitute the use of fossil fuels, the EU proposes to use its own natural resources instead – the west coast of Ireland records the highest wind speeds in the entire Union.

Councillor Killeen told the recent west Clare municipal district meeting: “This isn’t a competition with the east coast of Ireland, but obviously it is. We do have the one huge advantage in that we have a link from Moneypoint to all parts of Ireland for the movement of the energy created through wind power.

“I’m pleased to see that a committee has been put together and that our Dáil members will be present – a whole government approach is needed here to promote wind energy generation.”

While in contact with the Western Development Commission, Councillor Killeen has received reports from counties all along the western coast and is optimistic that with proper organisation and
recognition of potential, there could be a huge boost for the local economy and employment rate.

Councillor Cillian Murphy commented that offshore wind energy development is a complete game-changer for West Clare, even claiming that it’s the greatest opportunity to achieve economic and social sustainability that the region has ever had, more so than the establishment of Moneypoint.

There are two plans in place for this development off the coast of West Clare; Simply Blue and Shell aim to deliver 1.5 gigawatts from their Western Star project, while the ESB looks set to deliver 1.4 gigawatts through their Green Atlantic project.

These projects would be expected to provide €7-€9million each annually, money that Councillor Murphy is concerned might end up in the national pot, from which West Clare would be getting the “scraps”.

He said, “The assembly, installation and deployment of the turbines for these two projects could stimulate hundreds of high-quality jobs in the short term for West Clare, and the long-term ongoing maintenance and operation of the turbines will also require local skills and services to support the industry.

“There’s very little doubt as to the benefits that should accrue, however I don’t think we should take it for granted.”

Councillor Murphy gave mention to the Galway Docks, Fenit and the Aran Islands – some of many other viable options on the west coast to which West Clare might lose these opportunities.
He went on to say that the foundation of Moneypoint was due to the foresight and intensive lobbying done at the time by local Oireachtas members Brendan Daly and Sylvie Barrett and could easily have been built elsewhere without that effort.

The same is equally true now, he claims, and so he asks that a dedicated, visible and extremely vocal first point-of-call is set up in West Clare; headed by councillors and Oireachtas members.

He continued, “At the recent launch of the Simply Blue project at Loop Head Lighthouse, there was no local present. The first I heard of it was a photograph of the Simply Blue team with the Ennis Chamber of Commerce on Twitter.

“Here we go, I thought, another developer using West Clare for their launch but not really having any meaningful engagement with the community most affected.”

Councillor Murphy admitted that the West Clare MD can only blame itself for not putting an entity in place in that case, though he now recognises the responsibility of the authority in these coming developments.

He proposed that developers should be asked to brief the West Clare MD regularly on their works and what they might need, so that both local councillors and Oireachtas members can get involved and become upskilled in how these projects work.

Councillor Murphy mentioned that those who have concerns about the effects of such projects on the marine and estuarine environment must be given their chance to use their voice as well.

He concluded, “In short, I think we need to understand the project from top to bottom. If our Oireachtas members fail in stepping up for the West Clare communities, it will be a very visible failure, and those communities probably won’t forget about it.”

Councillor Ian Lynch weighed in on the subject, expressing his annoyance that the only achievement of backing ESB windfarms is their construction; once they are finished, there will be minimal benefit for West Clare, because the land is ESB property.

Councillor Lynch called it “ironic” that the government has paid substantial money to the Clare County Council for the derating of this land, but the Council cannot market that land for windfarms. He believes that Clare has almost missed the boat on this opportunity.

“Before this was announced, Fiennes in Limerick was already handing out glossy brochures on how they were the number-one in the west of Ireland for windfarm production.

“There is an awful lot of political weight required for this to impact the future of West Clare,” he added.

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