The current campaign to prevent the building of wind turbines in the Irish Sea off the coast of south Dublin contains the classic ingredients of an Irish protest movement. A small and self-interested minority attempting to stand in the way of the common good while claiming to be virtuous.
Given the acute energy crisis now upon us, never mind the national commitment to develop alternative sources of energy to meet our climate change commitments, never was the old adage that the perfect is the enemy of the good more appropriate.
The plan to develop large wind farms on the Kish and Bray sandbanks, approximately 10km off the coast may, or may not, have some environmental implications, but the opportunity to develop substantial renewable energy sources at an ideal location so close Dublin should be the overwhelming imperative.
The campaign to whip up opposition to the project has been under way for some time. The Killiney Community Council has now decided that no offshore wind farms should be built until a national plan for Marine Protection Areas has been developed. How many years, or decades, this will take is anybody’s guess, and in the meantime climate change targets will go out the window and the citizens of Dublin will face the real prospect of power cuts.
While the campaign against the wind farm is allegedly about biodiversity the suspicion must be that it has more to do with the desire of some well-heeled residents of Killiney to prevent wind turbines spoiling their sea view.
It is ironic that the main orchestrator of the campaign, which has attracted support in one of the richest locations in the country, is local People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who seems to have made a career for decades out of opposing development, both public and private, in the Dún Laoghaire area.
The plan to build the wind farms is undoubtedly a large project involving the building of up to 145 turbines with a height of 160m above sea level. It would involve the construction of foundations, cabling and an offshore substation across an area of 54km at a depth of between 2m and 30m.
The electricity generated on the site would be transmitted to the national grid by an underwater cable to Shangannagh, and from there to an Eirgrid substation in Carrickmines. The proximity of the grid connection is an important plus for the project which at full capacity should be able to supply 600,000 homes in the Dublin area.
All sorts of misleading arguments have been deployed in the campaign to stop the project. One is that similar developments in the UK and Denmark are required to be much further out to sea. This is simply not the case, with a number of projects in the UK 8km from shone and at least 70 across Europe within 22km of land.
Apart from Boyd Barrett the other three TDs in the constituency, Ossian Smyth of the Green Party, Jennifer Carroll McNeill of Fine Gael and Cormac Devlin of Fianna Fáil, have all given their support to the project.
Of course there have been shortcomings on the official side. One of the principal ones has been the tardiness of the Department of the Environment in coming up with a list of Marine Protection Areas as they are obliged to do under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Why is it that Irish officialdom is so often unable to get its act together when it comes to complying efficiently and quickly with EU rules?
There is also the wider question of a sensible approach to energy policy. Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan is rightly in favour of developing wind energy but his department appears to be falling behind in putting the necessary regulation in place to facilitate the creation of floating wind turbines far off the west coast.
This is where Ireland could become a large net exporter of energy in the decades to come, but unless the department gets its act together the large investment required to develop this new technology will go to Scotland or Norway, which are already far ahead of us in creating the necessary regulatory framework.
Ryan also needs to rethink urgently his opposition to the use of natural gas as an alternative to wind. In the short term gas will be vital to get the country through the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and even in the longer term, when Ireland can fulfil 100 per cent of its needs from wind, gas will also be necessary as a standby source of energy on days when the wind doesn’t blow.
Last week we even had the absurd position where Ireland declined to join other EU countries in seeking to source temporary floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals as part of an effort to diversify fuel supplies amid the ongoing energy crisis because of Green Party opposition.
Ryan and his colleagues will have some explaining to do if the lights go out in the winter ahead.