Nova Innovation, an Edinburgh-based tidal energy developer,contacted Eilean Eisdeal last year, along with neighbouring slate islands of Luing and Seil, to discuss a possible tidal turbine installation in Cuan Sound, where each of the three island communities would own a turbine.
Eilean Eisdeal, the community trust on Easdale Island, were occupied with other matters at the tine but are now hosting a sales pitch by Nova to an open audience tomorrow morning – 7th April, in Easdale Island Community Hall at 11.00am sharp.
Hot rolls, tea and coffee will be served form 10.30 onwards.
The technology is very much in its infancy and although an exciting proposal, large or small scale tidal energy generation does not have a proven track record.
There are other issues to be queried.
The proactive approach by Nova seems related to the community energy subsidy-chasing activities revealed recently by The Herald in relation to onshore wind developer, Intelligent Land Investment. ILI had built up a massive portfolio of community based wind farm applications each attracting government subsidies conceived os as supporting individual communities in enterprising renewables development, rather than making an annual assured fortune for a developer with an eye to the main chance.
Being of a suspicious mind in these wild west days of bullish renewables expansion, there are issues here to be explored with Nova by tis potential clients.
More importantly, there are real issues to be discussed in relation to Nova’s specific proposal for marine turbines in Cuan Sound.
The sound is navigable at all states of the tide and is used by fishing boats, wildlife charter boats and scuba divers.
As an infant and largely untried technology, the impacts on marine wildlife are nowhere near adequately researched.
There has been a small study on the effects on seals in Strangford Lough on the east coast of Northern Ireland, with a ferocious tidal bore and the first place in the UK to install a tidal turbine.
The Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) at Dunstaffnage is carrying out research on soundscaping, the way marine mammals ‘see’ their world and navigate it. Low frequency noise (LFN or infrasound) is known to be a major navigational instrument, with whales shown to pick up such frequency signals from extreme distances.
Wind turbines can produce LFN. Research studies – including some established, in depth and continuing studies by Australia’s Waubra Foundation, have shown that LFN can produce serious impacts on human health, including sleeplessness, night alarms produced by body vibrations, ear pressure pain, raised blood pressure and changes in cardiac performance.
Denmark’s regulations for wind turbines recognise that LFN can cause health problems. Scotland’s Draft Plan for Offshore Wind recognises repeatredly – but en passant and with no detail of any kind, that health is an issue.
No one yet know with any certainty what the subsea impact of marine turbines will be – across the spectrum of marine biodiversity, with fish stocks, marine mammals and with human divers.
That there will be impacts, though, is a given.
In these early days caution is, of course, advisable.
Cuan Sound is very important – for seals but also for otters and bottlenose dolphins.
Cuan also lies within a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which has a high level of legal protection. A marine turbine would be subject to an appropriate assessment and could only be consented if it could be proven beyond scientific doubt that it would have no adverse impact on the Special Area of Conservation.
At the moment there is in sufficient information on the impacts on marine wildlife of such installations to inform such an assessment.
Impacts on otters are of particular concern with their potentially unfortunate blend of curious and limited intelligence. They do occasionally drown in creels so a spinning turbine would arguably present a much greater hazard.
Properly speaking, it would be unwise to consent to a turbine in an area of such high conservation importance until the impacts on wildlife are better understood.
In the current rush for renewables at all costs, were such an installation to be considered for consent, it would require to be a condition iof consent that the turbines were fitted with safety guards with a mesh size designed to prevent otters, seals dolphins or scuba divers being brought into contact with the blades.
In wind turbines there is a vortex effect where small birds can be seen, already dead from the pressure, circling and held in the vortices created by the blades. We do not yet know whether similar vortices will be created subsea and, if so, just what impacts they would have on marine species and divers.
Nova Innovation was fast tracked a year ago by Scottish Enterprise in its ‘High Growth’ programme, a scheme designed to assist adopted companies like Nova to become ‘Investor Ready’ to expand their business. This status is awarded to companies that can demonstrate rapid expansion in a high growth sector such as marine renewables.
Quite what is meant by being able to ‘demonstrate rapid expansion in a high growth sector such as marine renewables’ is open to question since Nova has yet to prove an installation and an operation.
Its Nova-30 (30kW) device is in construction for the Bluemull Sound in Shetland, aimed to assist the sustainability of the community at North Yell. The lease from the Crown Estate Commissisoners’ has bveen granted and planning permission agreed and signed. This will be the world’s first community owned tidal scheme – but there is no evidence yet from its installation and operation.
The Nova turbine is a three bladed horizontal-axis device – and again there is a lack of comparative research study into the impacts of vertical or horizontal blade operation.
In fact, only yesterday (5th April) the Dutch renewable energy company, 2-B Energy, signed a deal with Scottish Enterprise to develop a unique two-bladed offshore wind turbine, with horizontal axis, at the Fife Energy Park.
Nova’s marine turbine is also ‘gravity anchored’. The company makes no claims for testing on the security of this in the strong tidal streams in which such devices would operate; nor does it give any indication of the relative impact on the stability of a gravity anchored device of vertical axis and horizontal axis blades – yet there will be a difference in physical impact.
There are folk in the Slate Islands who are pretty clued up – on all fronts and from all perspectives – on turbine driven renewables, so tomorrow’s pitch from Nova – ignore the misleading title ‘community consultation’ which gives it a spurious official status – should produce a lively debate with and amongst the audience.