KFO Fishermen to Have a Say in Irish Floating Wind Project. IFSA Chair Blasts the Deal

June 29, 2022

Credit: Hexicon
Credit: Hexicon

An interesting agreement has been signed in Ireland under which a local fishermen organizatino KFO will have a say in the development of an offshore wind project development in Ireland, dubbed one of the top five emerging markets for offshore wind. However, the move has been challenged by the chairman of the Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance Chair, Cormac Burke [his statement at the bottom of the article].

So, who signed what?

Ireland-based Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) and Sinbad Marine Services have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Swedish floating offshore wind developer and technology provider, Hexicon AB, in what has been decribed by the signatories as a historic partnership with a ‘new approach’ which promises to have local fishermen engaged and influencing the offshore wind development process from the onset.

"Key decisions, including site selection, cable routing, and land fall, will be collectively analysed and agreed. Similarly, other stakeholders, including environmental organisations will also be given input at an early stage in shaping the location and design of the floating wind farms. In parallel, long-established port operator and marine service provider, Sinbad Marine, will ensure the floating offshore wind project maximises its engagement with local industry and leverages local infrastructure," a joint statement released this week reads.

"Floating wind energy is experiencing exponential growth globally and Irish waters are exceptionally well-suited for the emerging technology which will likely eventually rival or even replace fixed bottom offshore wind as the leading offshore wind technology," the statement further said.

It has also been noted that the global expansion of offshore wind farms isoften a concern for fishing communities and cause for conflict. 

"In that context and in order to avoid potential controversy, the KFO, Sinbad Marine Services and Hexicon are joining forces to create a ‘new approach’ for the development of floating wind projects. This is the first time in offshore wind that key players from several fundamentally-opposed sectors have come together to collaborate on a project with a common objective," Hexicon said.

"The focus of the Memorandum of Understanding is for the parties involved to cooperate and agree solutions which are mutually beneficial for the development of a wind farm which does not negatively impact the fishing industry nor the marine environment while contributing to the transformation of local and global energy supply chains," the statement reads.

Ireland: One of Top 5 emerging Markets for Offshore Wind


The Global Wind Energy Council has highlighted Ireland as one of the top five emerging markets for offshore wind, with some of the world’s best wind resources with wind speeds over 10 metres per second (m/s). 

Along with the vast continental shelf, Hexicon says, Ireland also has a large sea area with perfect bathymetry for floating wind. 

"These are just some of the reasons why Ireland is attracting offshore wind developers from all over the world. In parallel, the fishing industry in Ireland represents an important economic sector, generating national income and providing employment for thousands of people. Successfully combining these two worlds will put coexistence at the centre of future offshore wind development in Ireland and elsewhere," Hexicon added.

2GW floating wind farm offshore Donegal

The proposed new floating wind farm is to be located more than 50km off the Donegal coast and has the potential to deliver up to 2 gigawatts (GW) of energy. 

According to Hexicon, which has developed a unique twin-turbine floating wind platforms, the floating wind farm could position Killybegs as a leading service hub for the budding offshore wind industry as well as helping establish energy independence for the fishing industry and wider region. 

Seán O’Donoghue, CEO of the KFO said: “This is a unique new approach to how floating wind energy can work in collaboration with fishermen. We at the KFO, weren’t interested in being presented with a fait accompli nor lines drawn on maps by any prospective developer. In signing this MoU, we have guaranteed that we will be at the centre of a project which has the potential to be an economically-transformative. Offshore wind is coming and with the KFO seeking out a ‘new approach’ to partnering with a suitable developer, we have put ourselves in pole position to harness a historic opportunity for the North West."

According to Hexicon, a Phase two Marine Area Consent (MAC) will be applied for under the new Marine Area Planning Act. The Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) which is soon to be established, will manage permitting of all offshore projects by issuing a MAC to all qualifying projects. Award of a MAC in turn, allows the developer to make an application for planning permission to An Bord Pleanála.

It is intended to use part of the energy generated to produce green fuels such as hydrogen or ammonia which in turn could be used to power the fishing fleet whilst also contributing to energy security for the port and local community. 

The initiative will require some 6,400 tonnes of hydrogen annually. Subject to adequate grid reinforcement being provided, the remainder of the energy will be connected to the national grid and contribute to Ireland’s stated target of 5GW from offshore energy by 2030. It has been reported that Ireland has the potential to generate at least 30 GW of offshore wind.


IFSA Chairman: No Clear Benefit to Fishermen, KFO Not Representing the Whole Industry


While KFO, Hexicon, and Sinbad have painted the proposed project and their agreement as mutually beneficial project which does not negatively impact the fishing industry nor the marine environment, not everyone is happy.

Cormac Burke, Chairman, Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance issued a statement condemning the move, and saying that KFO was not representing the country's whole fishing industry, but only its members. He also expressed doubt about any benefits for the fishermen that would transpire from the agreement.


Below is Burke's statement in full as released on Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance's website:

"Why is it always that the press statements that promise benefit for the fishing industry are the same ones that actually translate into the least real benefit for fishermen? Last weekend’s announcement by Sean O’Donoghue, on behalf of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), that it had entered into, along with local ship agents and supply operators Sinbad Marine, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with global floating offshore wind developer, Hexicon AB for an installation in north west waters, has raised many questions amongst the fishing industry nationwide. 

The first of these questions comes with the press release headline that “Fishing industry and Hexicon unveil historic collaboration” – with many people pointing out that this is misrepresentation and that the KFO is only one of a half a dozen industry subscribed representative groups and therefore it [KFO] has no right to claim that the agreement that they have entered into is ‘on behalf of’ the fishing industry as a whole. 

Secondly, O’Donoghue’s statement that “this is a unique new approach to how floating wind energy can work in collaboration with fishermen and in signing this MoU, we have guaranteed that we will be at the centre of a project which has the potential to be an economically-transformative” greatly falls short of promising any kind of benefit for fishermen in any sector of inshore, demersal or pelagics. 

“Key decisions, including site selection, cable routing, and land fall, will be collectively analysed and agreed. Similarly, other stakeholders, including environmental organisations will also be given input at an early stage in shaping the location and design of the floating wind farms” – these are all pretty words to attempt to tick all the boxes but once again, where will the benefit be to fishermen who, at the end of the day, will see further sacrifice of their fishing grounds? 

It should also be noted that the proposed site “off the northwest coast of Donegal” is promised to be at least 50km from shore - but anyone who knows the geography of Irish waters can confirm that this will mean the site is to be located in depths of 1,500m and establishing anchors and cables for a platform in such depths would be a project of vast cost, even for a global investment company. 

Opinion

Coming at time when the Irish fishing industry, particularly on the east and south west coasts are fighting to save the decimation of catching opportunities on their local fishing grounds due to an influx of planned wind farms and closed areas, it is sad to see the lack of consultation with the genuine stakeholders i.e. the fishermen themselves and that the entering into an agreement with a wind farm developer flies in the face of the growing sense of unity in the industry that had been seen over the past two years in particular. 

This leaves only the question of who will actually benefit? Once again while it is likely that a few people along the way will pick up some nice bonuses, another wealthy environmental company are going to make a killing and, as seems to always be the case, Irish fishermen will foot the bill. 

By the way, constantly referring to this wind farm as a ‘floating platform’ seems to be trying to infer that it is the lesser of two evils in that it is not a fixed project and with less seabed disruption – but omitting the fact that such platforms require industrial-scale anchors and cables to keep it in place and major disruption of the seabed environment will still occur. 

All in all, in this case too many questions remain unanswered. If this is such a wonderful plan and to be to the benefit of fishermen, then why were other industry organisations not invited to participate in this agreement? 

Also, considering that this is a project that will take place in Irish waters and will definitely impact on Irish fishermen but seems to have the blessing of one out of five of the POs, then the civil servants at the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM) must legally be involved and yet there is no mention of this involvement in the press release. 

The cynic in me senses that one body trying to ‘go it alone’ in an agreement with a group that the rest of the fishing sector are in conflict with smacks of the old ‘divide and conquer’ routine – something that this industry has suffered, but survived, for many decades, and at the end of the day, should we really be surprised by this latest attempt considering the source? 

Finally, it is unfortunate to see that certain fishing representative bodies seem to have the clout to get articles published in the Sunday national papers when its suits their need but apparently do not avail of these same contacts when the industry is in dire need of the highlighting of their abuse by marine civil servants or by the SFPA. Someone is definitely going to benefit out of wind farms in Irish waters but it sure as hell isn’t going to be Irish fishermen...



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