It is unsurprising that the world’s largest onshore windfarm is in China, or, more accurately, spread across a region of that vast country. The Jiuquan Wind Power Base has 7,000 wind turbines standing across Jiuquan, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Xinjiang, Jiangsu and Shandong. In contrast, southeastern Romania’s Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm wins Europe’s blue riband as the continent’s largest onshore wind farm. It is made up of a modest 240 turbines — a tiny fraction of those at Jiuquan but absolutely spectacular by Irish standards. Here an onshore windfarm with just 28 turbines is numbered in our top five while one with 58 tops the table.
There are many reasons for this great difference but one is that even Europe’s most authoritarian regime could not impose 7,000 turbines at one location. Be that as it may, comparing the scale of onshore windfarms is beginning to look like comparing how long it took the great liners to cross the Atlantic — interesting maybe but probably anachronistic. Just as air travel quickly made the great liners of old redundant, as a mode of transport at least, technology is at the point where there is no longer a compelling argument for building onshore windfarms, especially where the quality of life for small, relatively powerless, communities is ultimately no more than collateral damage.
The world’s largest offshore windfarm is taking shape 120km off Yorkshire. Hornsea One will supply 1m homes when, if it meets its schedule, it comes on stream later this year. It covers an area larger than Malta and is further offshore than any other windfarm to date — an important qualification in this fast-changing story. It consists of 174 seven-megawatt turbines with towers almost 100m tall. The blades cover an area greater than the London Eye observation wheel and a single rotation can power the average home for a day. The scheme will help Britain hit its target of getting a third of its electricity from offshore wind by 2030. Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea, about 19km from Cumbria is, to date, the world’s biggest operational offshore windfarm. With 87 turbines it will make a significant contribution to realising that objective too. Impressive though these projects are plans for the Codling Bank Wind Park outstrip them. This project is moving towards the construction stage. It will be located approximately 13km off our east coast, between Greystones and Wicklow. The developers plan to build 220 turbines.
Compared to these projects, projects that will surely be even larger in a decade, most Irish onshore windfarms seem implausible in the longer term. At the moment they make a major contribution to switching to renewable energy but offshore projects will quickly dwarf them. This should offer comfort to communities, like those we report on today, trying to resist the needless industrialisation of their immediate environment. The wind energy sector will resist this but technology now allows offshore farms what will not cast a shadow over communities. The time has come to avail of that technology and end the negative impact onshore windfarms have on habitats, landscapes, and vulnerable communities.