A protester has expressed anger that the council has not yet requested an independent marine assessment of Gaelectric’s proposed CAES plant.
Chair of the Stop Gaelectric campaign group, Lisa Dobbie, spoke out as the energy firm published three applications relating to the marine element of its £300 million Islandmagee plan.
This week’s Times features advertising publicising Gaelectric’s applications for a marine construction licence, a discharge consent licence and a licence to abstract/impound water.
The applications state that this will be limited to “abstract seawater at north-north west off the coast of the Ferris Point headland, for the purpose of solution mining salt caverns; discharge brine arising solution mining, into the sea at north-north east off the coast of Dundressan, Islandmagee; and construct the marine infrastructure required for abstraction and discharge purposes at the aforementioned locations”.
Gaelectric has already submitted a separate planning application for the power plant section of the project, which would store compressed air in underground salt caverns and release it to generate electricity when demand is high.
The proposal to pump brine (the waste by-product from the cavern excavations) into the sea off Islandmagee has caused concern among local residents over its potential effect on marine life.
At a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s planning committee on March 10, elected members voted in favour of Larne councillor Paul Reid’s motion to request that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency carry out an independent assessment of marine issues arising from the brine outlet pipe. The Times has learned that this was subsequently ratified at the planning committee meeting on April 7.
However, at the time of going to press the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said that it had not yet received any request for a marine study from the local authority.
A DAERA spokesperson commented: “To date, DAERA Marine Licensing has not received correspondence from the council in relation to the request for independent assessment by a marine biologist in relation to the planning application.”
While planning permission is necessary for the terrestrial element of the scheme, marine licensing must be applied for regarding activity between the mean high water spring tide, out to 12 nautical miles. Only the applicant can appeal any decision on the licensing schemes.
The DAERA spokesperson said that if planning permission were to be forthcoming, it could be issued before a marine licence is determined, and that it is aiming to process Gaelectric’s marine applications by August.
He added: “If the marine licence was not issued, the project would need to identify another option to remove the brine from the solution mining process.”
A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson confirmed that “the two different consents (planning permission and the marine licence) would need to be approved before the proposal could commence”.
Lisa said she was “angry and desperately disappointed” that the council had not requested an independent marine assessment prior to the publication of the marine license applications.
“The call from the council meeting to request a marine assessment should have been acted on without delay, especially since they knew the proposal was time-sensitive,” she stated.
“The council should have been more vocal and proactive. The Gaelectric advert says that the public will have 42 days to respond to the marine applications, until June 21, which I don’t think is enough time.”
MEA Borough Council said the application was regionally significant, and it was “only being consulted” on the matter. However, it added that it “reserves the right” to request an independent public enquiry into Gaelectric’s proposal, and said this “can be sought at any appropriate time”.