A map with the area shaded in red off St Catherine’s showing the site for the proposed tidal energy.
ONCE upon a time, the answer to the Island’s energy problems seemed to be blowing in the wind — wind turbines, to be precise.
But with furious objections to proposals for wind farms cropping up whenever a developer pokes his head above the parapet, even supporters of wind power would probably agree generating wind energy on the Island is, at best, a hard sell.
However, it now looks as if green energy for the Island is back on the agenda, this time not from wind turbines but from generators under the sea itself.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the one thing the Island has in abundance is water, we are surrounded by it.
And if the developers behind planned tidal generators off St Catherine’s Point have their way, tidal turbines could be producing enough electricity to power 15,000 homes on the IW as early as 2016. The project could also create up to 250 Island jobs, mostly via maintenance contracts. Supporters of tidal power argue tidal generators have a number of distinct advantages over wind turbines.
For a start, unlike wind power, tidal power is entirely predictable, far and away into the future.
Want to know how deep and fast the tide will be flowing on say, March 25, 2231? Just look it up on tide tables. Forecasters admit they have trouble predicting the weather more than five days ahead — and that is not going to change any time soon.
The other advantage is aesthetic. You can’t deny wind turbines have a visual impact on their surroundings. You either love them or hate them (contrary to opponents’ deeply held beliefs, quite a few people think they are beautiful). The point is they are inescapable, whether they float your boat or not.
Water turbines are hidden beneath the waves. Their aesthetic impact is a big fat zero.
Detractors on the other hand, particularly the fishing and business community in Ventnor, say the site of the proposed turbines would have a serious impact on the sea bed and the migration of the brown crab, a renowned delicacy in the seaside town.
Upset the brown crab and the knock-on effect is tourists have less reason to visit Ventnor, so the argument goes.
Last month, a public consultation into the Perpetuus Tidal Energy Centre (PTEC) project was launched at The Spyglass Inn, a stone’s throw from where the power cables from the tidal generators will eventually make landfall.
They will head underground before eventually joining the National Grid at the site of the town’s former railway station.
The company behind the project is PTEC Ltd, a consortium that includes the IW Council, Perpetuus Energy Ltd and TB Partners LLP (a corporate advisory and project development company specialising in the clean technology sector).
Frank Fortune, from Royal Haskoning DHV, one of the companies tasked to bring the project to life, said the project was 'exciting’ for the Island and could well lead to the IW becoming a world leader in tidal energy generation.
He said: "We believe it has the potential to create significant investment in terms of jobs on the IW."
A research facility into tidal power is already up and running in Orkney, the fruits of which are planned to be used when the Island’s tidal power station is built.
Up to 60 generators could be deployed in an area of five sq km off the south coast of the Island known as St Catherine’s Deep. Power cables will come ashore at Castle Cove, Ventnor, and from there link in to the National Grid.
Mr Fortune added: "It is renewable green energy and sustainable energy."
As part of the planning process, an environmental impact assessment is currently under way. It will include work on the impact of the turbines on fishing, sea life and the seabed and yachting and recreational boating activities.
However, according to the scheme’s many opponents in Ventnor, St Catherine’s Deep is exactly the wrong place to site the turbines as they will be located on valuable fishing grounds for the brown crab.
Geoff Blake, owner of the Ventnor Haven Fishery, warned if the project went ahead, his business, which employs 20 people, could be under threat.
He argued the tidal array would not generate enough power and, more importantly, interfere with the migration patterns of the crabs.
He said: "That stretch of water is critical to our operations. To function, we need a reliable supply of crab. I have not slept much recently. Once you take away a reliable supply, it is not going to work. It has definitely put the future of the fishery at risk."
Mr Fortune said he hoped to be able to work with the fishermen to resolve any issues they had.
He said: "We have been looking at other projects across the UK and we have not found any significant negative effects on the sea bed, the ecology of the sea bed or on other users of the sea."