Eirgrid chief confident about avoiding legal challenges to planned substations

Consultation deemed key by Mark Foley amid fishermen’s concern at impact of south coast offshore wind energy on their sector

Eirgrid chief executive Mark Foley has expressed confidence the company will be able to avoid legal challenges to two offshore substations off the south coast. It will, however, need to engage in the same sort of consultation that facilitated the granting of planning for the Celtic Interconnector without any challenges.

Mr Foley explained that the Government’s plan to produce 80 per cent of Ireland’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2030 would require the construction of one substation off the coast of Cork and another off the coast of Waterford or Wexford to service the growing offshore wind sector.

The study area for the proposed Cork substation extends from Ringroe near Robert’s Cove, west of the mouth of Cork Harbour to Youghal while the study area for the proposed Waterford/Wexford substation extends from near Clonea in Co Waterford to Cullenstown Beach in Co Wexford.

The identified study areas include a number of ecologically and environmentally sensitive areas including Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) which are prevalent along the estuaries and foreshore areas of Cork, Waterford and Wexford.


The project will involve establishing connections between these two new offshore substations and existing substations onshore which will necessitate the laying of undersea and underground cables to carry the energy ashore for distribution to homes.

“This will help deliver up to 900 megawatts of additional electricity – enough to power almost one million homes with clean energy. This new electricity will be generated by offshore wind farms in Irish waters,” said Mr Foley during a recent visit to Cork.

However, a survey last year by researchers from the University of Exeter and University College Cork of some 1,550 people living around the Irish coast found that fishermen fear the development of the offshore Irish wind sector will have a negative impact on Irish fisheries.

Some 78 per cent of fishermen think that offshore wind energy will negatively impact on Irish fisheries and 85 per cent of fishermen, who were aware of a specific project close to their fishing areas, thought the project would impact directly on their fishing activity, the survey found.

Some 71 per cent of the hundreds of commercial fishermen among those surveyed ranked the loss of access to fishing grounds as the most or second most negative impact of the wind energy sector although 32 per cent of fishermen said they would be interested in alternative employment in the sector.

Last November, a Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action report warned that greater consultation with the fishing industry must be “facilitated” to provide better planning around marine protected areas (MPAs) and offshore wind farms.

Fishing organisations were not asked to contribute to the committee’s report which nonetheless included a recommendation that “instances of bottom trawling and dredging… be significantly reduced and entirely prohibited within special areas of conservation or marine protected areas”.

The report says the expansion of the marine renewables industry in Ireland “must be led in a climate friendly manner” and “the provision of best-practice guidelines supported by legislation would ensure robust and consistent site assessments and risk analyses” for offshore wind development.

However, the report quotes Irish Whale and Dolphin Group co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow, who said that “currently the fishing industry is fearful of the future with Marine Protected Areas and offshore wind farms”, due to lack of consultation.

“The marine renewable energy industry in Ireland is expanding rapidly, and the report noted the need for ‘appropriate planning’ to ‘mitigate negative impacts on marine species and habitats’,” said the committee in its report.

“Stakeholders highlighted the lack of legislation around MPAs is currently the biggest issue, and that the designation of MPAs along with ‘sensitivity mapping’ is essential to ensure the development of offshore renewable energy is steered away from more sensitive areas of the marine environment.”

But Mr Foley pointed to the manner in which Eirgrid approached obtaining planning for the Celtic Interconnector between Ireland and France as the type of approach that he envisaged the company would similarly adopt when it came to the construction of the substations off the south coast.

“The Celtic Interconnector was an exemplar project in how to consult and listen. We built a formidable team in the whole stakeholder engagement domain, and we will be replicating that approach – go in early, no preconceptions, listen very carefully to what people are saying.

“Celtic got through planning with no judicial proceedings, no oral hearings because we listened, and we dealt with people’s legitimate concerns. And we came up with a solution that they were comfortable with, and we will be doing the same with this.

“This project is mega for Eirgrid, our first two substations in the sea, and we want this to evidence how to do things right. That means the people should feel comfortable and feel part of it and not feel disenfranchised in any way.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times