Fishermen have traditionally opposed offshore wind farms because of their impact on their access to fishing grounds, but a new partnership in Donegal is looking to turn that relationship on its head, with potentially huge power generation potential.
In the next 18 months, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organization, along with Hexicon, a Swedish company specializing in floating offshore wind farm technology, and Sinbad Marine Services, a company in Killybeg that provides services to fishermen, are set to submit a planning application to the new marine regulator. , Mara, to invest €3 billion in a floating offshore wind farm off the southern coast of Donegal.
The site, when fully operational, can produce up to 2 gigawatts of power each year. Approximately six gigawatts of energy is generated on the island of Ireland each year, which means that the site could produce more than a third of the island’s energy needs when operating at full capacity.
“The fishing industry came together mainly because we were aware of all the issues on the east and south coasts and the fishermen and wind developers were on opposite sides.”
Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) spokesman Justin Moran said Ireland has the potential to develop enough electricity through offshore wind farms to be energy-independent by the end of the 2000s.
Sean O’Donoghue, CEO of Killybegs Fishermen’s Organization (KFO), says his group has dealt with Hexicon and not the other way around.
We’re calling this a new approach, and it’s probably a world first. The fishing industry came together mainly because we were aware of all the issues on the east and south coast, and the fishermen and wind developers were on opposite sides.”
Several companies have contacted the KFO in the past through “lines drawn on maps,” according to O’Donoghue. This approach, he says, pushes them to “crackers”.
Instead, the KFO decided to put together their own set of principles and see if they could find a partner who would agree with them. Then he made his method to Hexicon.
The six principles are:
– Ensuring the participation of the fishing industry from the beginning of the operation;
– The developers are obligated not to draw lines on the map before a “meaningful consultation”;
– offshore winds located in locations to reduce the “visual effects on the coasts”;
– protection of biodiversity;
– The local community to benefit.
Wind technology to help provide alternative fuels for the marine and fisheries sector.
O’Donoghue says the impact of Brexit on the fishing industry has also played a big role in this initiative. “One of our drivers also is that Donegal and Kiribati in particular have been hit hard by the Brexit deal. This year alone, we are losing over 12,000 tonnes of mackerel worth €18 million. Mackerel is a mainstay of the entire Irish fishing industry, and the source main for money.”
The location, which has yet to be fully determined, will be at least 50 kilometers off the coast of Donegal, a factor that was “very important” in the decision to deal with Hexicon, says O’Donoghue.
Hexicon and KFO have now signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on the project.
Marcus Thor, CEO of Hexicon, says there is no need for “conflict” between wind energy developers and fishermen, which happens “99 percent” of the time.
“I am very optimistic and excited about this test case,” he says.
O’Donoghue says no fees have been paid to Hexicon’s KFO, but adds that they may enter into a formal partnership at a later time.
In almost every other part of the world, fishermen are paid compensation to ensure the projects are successful. This was not the case in Ireland, says Thor. Instead, a genuine approach to engagement and true partnership was a priority.
Thor adds that offshore floating wind farms were now at a “tipping point” for being commercially viable.
He says building a floating offshore wind farm 50 kilometers offshore not far from the coast if the site is large enough.
We are not limited by the depth of the water. Floating winds mean building on a large scale. The 2 gigawatt wind farm is a huge piece of infrastructure investment that comes at a significant and significant cost.”
But he says the wind source in the Atlantic is “incredible”.
Thor explains that Hexicon is an expert in the “full development phase,” but does not have the balance sheet for site development on its own. “There will be, at some point, other partners with larger balance sheets.”
“Just a gigawatt, which is a few billion euros,” he says. The cost of building gigawatts will be $3 billion [offshore wind farm]. “
Moran says the challenges for Hexicon are the same as for others in the sector. Establishing a new maritime regulator early next year is the first challenge. There should also be a special offshore floating wind display the next time Eirgrid runs a renewable energy auction.
Eirgrid conducts an auction at fixed times where you agree to buy energy for the national grid at an agreed price during a certain period of time from different energy providers. Currently, it is more expensive to produce energy on floating offshore wind farms than on fixed bottom offshore wind farms. This means that a special market must be created to encourage companies to move into the floating wind farm sector offshore.
He has now begun to engage with the government and regulators. O’Donoghue says they have realized that government policy is to “pursue renewable marine energy,” especially offshore wind. They have a number of meetings with Eamonn Ryan and others later this year. “We are getting very positive feedback from the government on this,” he said.
O’Donoghue said they will assure the government of the unique partnership model that KFO and Hexicon have entered into. “What is happening on the East Coast, is a recipe for disaster. There will be, in my opinion, great legal battles going on.” He said other hunter groups were now looking for Killybegs as a model.
Network connectivity is the key to Hexicon’s request and KFO.
The Northwest Region was crossed out by Airgrid in terms of connections. We’re getting the government to really rethink that. There’s no point in having all that power in the right place but we don’t have a network connection. This is a key issue as part of this project,” says O’Donoghue. “Airgrid has to face the reality of Ireland’s energy security and they have to cooperate.”
Moran says the national grid is “not fit for purpose”. He adds that the network needs to be “reinforced” in the northwest.
see the potential [for] Ireland to become “a major contributor to the pan-European renewable energy generation and transmission system”
A spokesperson for Ergrid said the government is committed to achieving five gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 through developments on the east and south coasts.
In parallel, it sees the potential for “at least 30 gigawatts of offshore floating wind power in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean”, enabling Ireland to become “a major contributor to the pan-European renewable energy generation and transmission system”.
The investment will be made in the Northwest, with a scheme outlining the need for several new projects specifically to facilitate the generation of new renewable energy.
In Donegal, additional capacity will be delivered, with a new development called the Northwest Project, the upgrade of the Clogher circuit to Drumkeen and a reconfiguration of the grid.
Environmental concerns are also addressed by Hexicon and KFO. Thor says floating winds have a “lower environmental impact” than fixed-base offshore wind farms. Hexicon has a proprietary technology that allows it to have two turbines on one base, which means it can squeeze more turbines into a smaller space.
However, the scale of the project is huge, and the final site is expected to reach 200 square kilometres.
Together with Science Foundation Ireland, Hexicon is co-funding an 18-month research project to build a multi-objective tool for decision-making and constraint mapping. This will be used to identify areas suitable for floating wind farms using datasets that include biodiversity, sediment types, protected sites, geotechnical and geophysical with commercial fisheries data and expert interpretation provided by the KFO and other marine stakeholders. Researchers from the UCC and UCD were brought in to assist with the project.
“It is better to set guidelines and target texts, so we can still have a thriving fishing industry”
The project remains somewhat elusive, as neither Hexicon nor KFO expected the wind farm to be up and running for at least another six to seven years. “We have a rough idea it’s going to be off the south coast of Donegal,” O’Donoghue says.
He acknowledges that there is a financial opportunity for the KFO in seeing the project succeed. “We see opportunities for our vessels to get involved in this. We are in a better position to set guidelines and goals so that we can still have a thriving fishing industry.”
He also says that Kilbig has had “extensive experience” serving naval developments and has supported Corrib for years, something that impressed Thor.
The development will support jobs in the area, but neither man is willing to give a figure on how much benefit it could accrue to the local community, yet. “It takes time to match needs with opportunities and possibilities, but it’s an important point,” says Thor. In any gigawatt development, you should expect a lot of development in neighboring areas as well.”
“We see this as a game changer for Donegal,” says O’Donoghue. “We don’t see this project tomorrow or next year, but in 15 years. Instead of all the graduates leaving in Donegal, Sligo and Derry, they will come back instead. We really see this for the next generation as really game-changing.”