The Marine Institute has ‘lost the trust’ of residents in An Spidéal over its handling of its application for a foreshore lease for renewable energy test site in Galway Bay, according to a Dáil Deputy.
Independent Galway West TD, Catherine Connolly said the whole consultation process has been a “complete mess” and badly handled by Foras na Mara.
Deputy Connolly has called on the Marine Institute, and the Minister for Marine, to extend the deadline of the public consultation period, so that concerned residents can make informed submissions about the project in the bay off Spiddal.
“Trust between Foras na Mara (Marine Institute), and what they are calling the stakeholders, who are the residents and people who this test site impacts, has broken down,” she said.
“Foras na Mara and the Government has made a mess of this. People do not trust them. They are concerned about this project because there has been so much confusion about it,” she said.
Some 70 people attended a public meeting in Connemara Coast Hotel last week, where four people from Marine Institute explained the project.
Deputy Connolly was in attendance with Dáil constituency colleagues Éamon Ó Cuív (FF) and Hildegarde Naughten (FG), and senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (SF).
Deputy Connolly said the Marine Institute agreed to host this public meeting only after she raised the matter in the Dáil.
“They held a meeting on a Tuesday in June, and the closing date for submissions was that Friday. That’s no way to consult the public. They have extended the deadline twice now after I raised it in the Dáil.
“The consensus at Thursday’s public meeting was there is a need to extend the deadline for a third time. It is a very complex matter and residents want time to examine it in detail.
The deadline is next Tuesday, August 2, but that isn’t sufficient time and I’ve called for the deadline to be extended. The people at the Marine Institute, who are the applicants, said they would not object to an extension again,” said Deputy Connolly.
Some of the confusion is of Marine Institute’s own making, which has further aroused suspicions, she said.
The Marine institute’s original application stated it was seeking permission to deploy three turbines of 60 metres in height.
However, it has since corrected its application and insists that the “devices” will be half that height.
“A prototype floating wind turbine being tested on the site could have a blade tip at maximum 35m above sea level while wave energy converters would be up to 5m above sea level,” it said.
It has applied for a 35-years lease, and the wind turbines will be on site “intermittently”.
The application states that there will be a limit of three ocean energy test devices deployed at any one time for a period of testing “no greater than 18 months”.
Deputy Connolly said a lease was stronger than a licence, and residents are worried that the lease allows it to be sublet possibly to private companies.
They are concerned also about the length of the lease – 35 years; about the size of the area being covered, which is 37 hectares; and about their insistence that it is a “test site” but that it is not referred to as such in the application.
An existing ten-year lease granted in 2006 was for wave energy and made no reference to wind energy or turbines. This has been extended for a year but residents are unclear about the terms of that extension, she said.
“I come at this from a position in which I am 100% supportive of renewable energy because we have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we have to bring the people with us, there has to be proper consultation that addresses the concerns of residents. Trust has completely broken down, and they have made a mess of this,” added Deputy Connolly.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh, in a statement, said he is supportive of an extension of time for the application.
“I would suggest that an extension of four to six months would be the amount of time needed to allow people to make proper and considered submissions,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh in a letter to the Minister.