OFFSHORE energy opportunities could turn West Clare into the “Aberdeen of the wind industry”, local authority members have heard.
A debate on the potential of the renewable energy sector to transform the local economy was triggered at the July meeting of Clare County Council by a motion from Councillor Joe Killeen.
The Fianna Fáil member sought an outline of current and future efforts to harness offshore wind and wave energy and “efforts to position Clare as the location that companies throughout Europe will choose when considering investment in renewable energy”.
Councillor Killeen also called for a seminar, in the autumn, on renewable energy.
“If you’re not pushing forward, then you’re in reverse,” he said.
“We will be overtaken when it comes to renewable energy. This is a Europe-wide issue. The most appropriate place for this industry is along the West Clare coast.”
Referring to the deadline for submissions on the work of the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce, which is Friday, July 29, Councillor Killeen wondered how the authority members might best contribute.
“We need to get a strong submission in,” he said. “You have to put the best foot forward and represent the county as best you can. I am completely confident in the work of the taskforce, but concerned about the short notice.”
Councillor Ian Lynch asked that a sub-committee might be set up to look at the issue.
“There is a lot of frustration about the marketing of Clare,” he said.
“We need to make sure our submission is very cohesive and very strong. West Clare and this county are key to renewable energy.”
Councillor Cillian Murphy said he personally has no problem “sitting down and doing what needs to be done”.
“There is still merit in a seminar in the autumn,” he said.
“A lot of us don’t get the scale of the opportunity, it runs to multiple billions of euros, lads. The community benefit fund will be north of €10m per annum. We’re not at the races and I get cranky about this. This is a game changer an opportunity to turn into the Aberdeen of the wind industry in West Clare. We need to be preparing now, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Council CEO Pat Dowling agreed wholeheartedly with members’ views.
“We have been engaging,” he said. “The government sees the opportunity. We’re at a good stage in terms of the whole issue of offshore wind. We presented Kilrush Marina project at last Taskforce meeting.”
Mr Dowling undertook to ask Senior Planner Brian McCarthy to liaise, before the end of July, on a submission to the Estuary taskforce.
“We already have a strategy for the Estuary,” he said. “Whatever about Kerry, they’ll have to fight their corner. We’ll be fighting ours. There are things happening on Moneypoint. The ESB have a clear strategy. They’re hitting some lumps and bumps along the way, but they have a very clear strategy. The taskforce will serve to get this on paper and get it back to government.”
Mr Dowling also agreed to organise a full seminar in the Autumn. Councillor Killeen welcomed this commitment.
A written response to the motion from Mr McCarthy said that from a Clare perspective, the issue was outlined in the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan for the Shannon Estuary (SIFP).
“The land and marine-based plan, the first of its type to be developed in the country, has informed decisions, policy and in particular significant investment decisions along the entire Estuary,” the response said.
“Moneypoint and Cahercon are identified in the SIFP as Strategic Development Locations. The Chief Executive is the Chair of the SIFP implementation group.
“Moreover, Clare County Council, through its Strategic Economic Initiatives unit (SEI), has proactively led a number of initiatives to increase the proposition and attractiveness of County Clare for inward investment and economic development arising from opportunities from off-shore renewables.
“These include the assistance and collaboration with a tidal test device company to locate a tidal test device off Cahercon – currently under assessment for a Foreshore Licence; the proposal to establish a Maritime Training Centre in Kilrush to provide a location for training for the undoubted opportunities for employment and training that the off-shore sector will require; and
the management by the SEI of large scale scientific data gathering across the estuary to ensure that availability of scientific data to assist with project development and assessments.”
The response added that: “Clare County Council is seeking to maximise all efforts and advantages that Clare’s natural and infrastructural resources and talented workforce have to ensure that off-shore renewables can be harnessed sustainably for the county.
“There are also several factors and stakeholders at national and EU level and from the private sector, international corporations, wind energy developers and infrastructural providers necessary to realise the opportunities.
“It is also vital that communities and stakeholders are central to the consideration and benefit of opportunities from renewable energy.”
Mr McCarthy’s response concluded: “The Shannon Estuary Taskforce Report is anticipated to be completed by the end of this year and will be presented to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
“It will subsequently be considered by Government. In that context, the Task Force Report is a key next step and regarding the request for organising a seminar it may be appropriate to also wait until the publication of the Report and any recommendations.”