Giant turbines blowing the winds of change

Twice as tall as Ireland’s tallest building — Cork’s 17-storey Elysian tower — and now also set to be taller than Dublin’s needle-like Spire, are each of Cork’s harbour’s just emerging, elevated wind turbine hubs and spinning vanes, all in the vicinity of Ringaskiddy.

Costing €30m for four, and with three set to be operational by May of this year, they are quickly making a mark on Cork harbour’s skyline and scenic panoramas, with site works only having started last September.

These wind turbines are being built to serve vital harbour industry, and will save the four sponsoring pharma/healthcare companies an estimated 30% of their energy bills each year as well as cutting damaging CO2 emissions.

The giant turbines measure 99m to their hubs; from those hub-heights, the radius of the enormous whirring blades or vanes will add a further 49.5m to bring them at full stretch to a height of 149m, or 490ft above the ground.

That considerable height is just shy of the ESB’s Aghada chimney stack eastwards across Cork harbour, and which is itself a landmark at 152m. By contrast, Dublin’s Spire — though it seems to soar into infinity given its slender profile — is a ‘mere’ 121m, or 390ft.

Ireland’s tallest building, the Elysian in Cork city centre, is 71m, with a further 10m added in a decorative pinnacle, so the 149m harbour vanes will top out at twice the height of the Elysian tower itself.

Also tall in Cork harbour terms is the spire of St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh: it soars to 91m, and the cathedral is built about 25m above sea level. Thus, the wind turbines’ vanes will reach far higher to the skies than the tip of the cathedral, a neo-Gothic beacon in the harbour, completed in 1915, the year Lusitania’s victims and survivors forged a fatal link with Cork and Queenstown.

Yet, in national height terms, the four vanes being built by DePuy Synthes, GSK, Janssen Biologis and Novartis (Novartis has put its own turbine on temporary hold) are themselves overshadowed by the chimneys at Moneypoint in Clare, at 218m, or 715ft, and by Dublin’s twin Poolbeg chimneys at 207m, or 682ft. Ireland’s tallest structure is a radio mast in Tullamore, at 290m or 998ft, only marginally outclassed by a 1,000ft high transmission mast in Strabane, Northern Ireland.

The Cork harbour companies’ investment in the four 3mw turbines was put at €30m at the time of the planning grant, and while permission was sought for six, just four got permission via An Bord Pleanala, and three will be commissioned by early May. Broadly similar in height to the wind turbines erected in the pioneering Arklow Bank power farm in the Irish Sea a decade ago, their installation means removing 22,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. Combating CO2 emissions which contribute to climate change and to rising sea levels is a topic close to the hearts and drenched soles of recently flooded harbour and city residents.

While the turbines’ lofty size and visual impact is divisive for some, their imminent arrival was welcomed by environmental lobby group CHASE who noted “any move towards clean sustainable energy which does not add to the pollution in Cork harbour has to been seen in a positive light”.

Pharma plants and energy-hungry industries, the Port of Cork and Marine Minster Simon Coveney have all welcomed the turbines as tangible evidence Cork Harbour is progressive and open to alternative energy ideas. They will also serve as a calling card for IMERC, the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster, based in Ringaskiddy and aiming to bring 3,000-4,000 marine and energy-related research and innovation jobs to Cork harbour.


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