Dr Mick O’Meara

Blue Horizon


In December 2021, the Irish Government introduced new marine planning legislation in the form of the Maritime Planning Act (MAP) 2021. Within the act, provision for the establishment of designated maritime area plans (DMAPs) was introduced. These DMAPs set out detailed forward planning procedures for a range of activities in the marine environment and define exact geographical areas for development.

Between July and September 2023, a south coast DMAP proposal for an area covering a significant portion of the Wexford, Waterford and Cork coastlines was available for public consultation. Over 1,400 people made submissions stating that offshore renewable energy (ORE) developments should be located at least 22km from the coast arguing that do to so is consistent with advances in technology and practice.

On May 3rd, 2024, the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) published a draft south coast DMAP identifying four maritime areas—A, B, C, and D—for development within the next decade (see attached image). Area A, off the Copper Coast in County Waterford and associated with both Energia and the ESB, is designated as the first of these four sites to be developed with a target delivery time of 2030. While there is a lack of clarity on exactly how many turbines, how high they will be and how many there might be, If it goes ahead Area A, also known as Tonn Nua, will result in a grid of 60 x 300-metre-high wind turbines located, at their nearest row, approximately 12km from the Waterford coast. Collectively, the four areas presented in the draft DMAP plan for a total installed generation capacity of five gigawatts. All four sites will result in a total of 330 turbines off Waterford and South Wexford.

Blue Horizon survey & public opinion

Blue Horizon is an unfunded not-for-profit organisation without affiliation to any political party or industry formed by and of people in favour of renewable energy production that is planned and located in ways that ensure that Ireland meets the vital reduction in fossil fuel emissions that the Irish Government has agreed to as an EU member state. In 2023, Blue Horizon conducted a survey of the Waterford public: over 75% of respondents stated that it was very important that the most up to date technology is used to plan and commission offshore wind farms off the Waterford coast. Over 70% of people felt that visitor numbers to the Waterford coastline and associated communities will be affected by the presence of large wind turbines close to shore. 25% of people wanted turbines located more than 22km from shore; 30% were in favour of locating turbines more than 35km from shore, and almost 23% would only support offshore renewable energy (ORE) only if turbines were invisible from the shoreline. Clearly people are not happy with the prospect of massive ORE infrastructure close to shore. In its submission as part of the original consultation in 2023 Blue Horizon requested that wind farms be located at least 22km from the Waterford coastline. The Tonn Nua site locates all 60 of the 300-metre high turbines within 20km from shore. A disconnect exists between what the people of this area said when they were consulted and what DECC draft DMAP proposes. Unless people stand up and insist that this proposal is changed the communities of coastal Waterford and Wexford will have industrial landscapes instead of the pristine coastal views that they have today.

Visual impact

Independent research studies have been undertaken in England (2020) and in Wales (2019) which have both determined that wind turbines of between 225m and 300m in height (the typical height being used in current ORE developments worldwide) should be located at least 40km from shore to have a low visual impact; a location of 28km from shore would result in a moderate visual impact. This is scientific research which cannot be disputed. Internationally, there seems to be attempts to value and preserve the visual integrity of coastal locations as in Germany, planners and developers favour a 30km minimum distance offshore to deter any planning refusals based on visual and noise impacts. Similarly, in the Netherlands, their Offshore Wind Energy Roadmap has eight offshore wind development zones ranging from a minimum distance of 18.5km in two early developments to a minimum distance of 24km, 53km, 56km, 62km, 77km and 100 km offshore planned for the coming years.

On a local level, the Waterford City and County Development Plan is clear on the protection of sensitive seascapes and, based on the results of a landscape character assessment, includes a specific policy which ‘protects the scenic routes and specified protected views including views to and from the sea, rivers, landscape features, mountains, landmark structures and urban settlements from inappropriate development that by virtue of design, scale, character or cumulative impact would block or detract from such views’. The water off the Waterford coast is relatively shallow and it is possible to locate bottom fixed turbines at or beyond 22km using current technology. We have already seen an experienced international offshore wind developer drafting plans to install a bottom fixed wind farm approximately 30km from the Waterford coast in water depths of 65 – 75 metres and developers are currently planning to install turbines 60km off the Scottish coast in similar depths before 2030. There is no need to have turbines this size so close to our shores. The only thing influencing the distance is energy company profits which should not influence the ecosystem approach of marine spatial planning.

The main images represent what 300-metre-high turbines will look like at a distance of 12.5km, 14.5km and 16.5km off the Waterford coastline. The turbines will dominate the seascape and significantly affect the integrity of the coastal amenity. Blue Horizon ask for turbines to be located a minimum distance of 22km offshore. Turbines at 22km will not be hidden by the curvature of the Earth and will be highly visible from our coast. Blue Horizon strongly urges public and local representatives to support the campaign to ensure that renewable energy projects planned for the South Coast are located at least 22km from shore.

There is a public consultation period running until 15th June after which the DMAP will go to both houses of the Oireachtas for approval. Once this happens, wind energy developers will compete to build the wind farm. The successful bidder will be the company who submits the lowest bid. DECC’s decision to award the contract using a price-only criterion places no value on the coastline or visual impact: this contrasts with best practice in several other EU countries where environmental issues are considered.

There is the distinct possibility that a significant diminishment of the Waterford coastline and associated habitats will occur as a result of determining the siting of renewable energy infrastructure through cost alone. The beneficiaries of this approach will not be energy consumers but investors. Alternatives to cost-only approaches exist. Multiple wind farms will be located off Waterford and it is important for people in the south east to have a conversation about how and where renewable energy projects are located because, otherwise, the priorities of big business, data centres and European energy demands will determine what happens to Ireland’s ecosystems and seascapes. Waterford can have it all – decarbonisation, energy security, community benefit funds, preservation of biodiversity and pristine and incredibly beautiful, life-enhancing seascapes: as a community, people of the south east must have their say and take action.

In the coming days, Blue Horizon will launch a petition to ask DECC and the Irish Government to keep all renewable energy development at least 22km offshore – please sign and share it. For further information, visit www.bluehorizon.ie.