Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

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    Wednesday, July 07, 2010


    Offshore wind energy protect fish from trawlers, study finds
    Zoe Casey, 3 de Julio de 2010 (Regulacion Eolica con Vehiculos Electricos)

    The Old Energies like coal and oil have always sought to maximize profits by providing the nation’s energy. They have always believed they were doing well by doing good. Perhaps by 19th century standards, this was true.

    In the 21st century, there is a higher standard for doing good. This spring, the nation has seen a coal mine operated by profit-hungry people cave-in and crush 29 miners. It has seen an offshore oil drilling platform operated by profit-hungry people explode, incinerate 11 drillers and despoil an economy and an ecosystem.

    The New Energies will not follow in these footsteps. The New Energies are determined to do well by meeting the 21st century standard of doing the right thing in the right way.

    Case in point: Offshore wind. It will not mimic an oil industry that has pushed to drill anywhere and everywhere and provide for clean-up only if and when a demand is made. It will not mimic a coal industry that has thrived for centuries at the expense of miners’ lives and the life of the landscape. The offshore wind industry knows that the world’s oceans are precious and irreplaceable and has fully engaged in doing installations only where lengthy and comprehensive environmental impact studies approve them.

    As the EU offshore industry prepares to build 25,000 offshore turbines and obtain 12%-to-16% of its power from them by 2030, Greening Blue Energy: Identifying and managing the biodiversity risks and opportunities of off shore renewable energy, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, E.ON Climate and Renewables, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is a roadmap to do the build out in a respectful manner so that ocean wind can takes its rightful place in an ocean environment sustainably nurturing to its diversity of inhabitants. The U.S. offshore wind and wave energy industries should study this report thoroughly.

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    The goal is to obtain crucial environmental information ahead of development instead of because of it.

    One important finding in the study is that while all the potential impacts have yet to be catalogued, some benefits to marine life are likely: (1) Trawling – said to be among the worst threats to acquatic biodiversity – would be disrupted, if not impeded entirley, in areas of offshore wind installations, protecting threatened fish species. (2) Turbine tower foundations, fixed by boulders, are expected to act as artificial “reefs” where subsurface ocean life can locate and thrive.

    The biggest problems with offshore wind installations identified in the study are (1) the noise and other changes during construction and (2) the potential interference with bird and fish migrations. Developers are dealing with the first issue by planning construction during seasons when it will be least disruptive (avoiding mating times, for instance). They are answering the second issue with careful siting.

    Because of the living dynamism of the marine environment, the environmental impacts of offshore wind projects will never be a fully settled and dismissed matter. It is a measure of the wind industry’s commitment to doing the right thing the right way that this and most other environmental impact studies include, as part of the conclusion, the plan for further and on-going studies.

    Any type of utility-scale energy production is going to have impacts. The objective of study and planning is to make the impacts of New Energy production more favorable than that of the energy production it replaces, more favorable than the impacts of climate change, and as minimal as possible.

    Final notes: (1) Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Energy-funded University of Maine DeepC Wind program may be one of the most advanced offshore wind research programs in the world. (2) Ironically, though the BP Gulf oil spill may slow U.S. offshore wind development in the short run, it is likely to advance research in the longer run.

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    The need for New Energy will only grow. Offshore wind is an obvious choice and will become a greater reality as more and more engineering solutions emerge to make development more practical and affordable. Pressures to develop offshore wind will grow. Only further knowledge of how to develop it properly (or of why it should not be developed) will protect the biodiversity of the precious and limited offshore ecosystem.

    The study seeks to provide guidance in the best practices for doing the Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that will protect marine biodiversity. Based on a review of 1000+ reports and documents, including ~400 peer-reviewed papers and studies, Greening Blue Energy takes basic science as its guide but also incorporates lessons learned from working offshore by wind and other industries.

    Potential impacts of offshore wind development: (1) Disturbance effects from noise, (2) electromagnetic fields, (3) changed hydrodynamic conditions and water quality, and (4) altered habitat structure on benthic communities, fish, mammals and birds.

    Benthic zone: “[T]he ecological region at the lowest level of a body of water such as an ocean or a lake, including the sediment surface and some sub-surface layers. Organisms living in this zone are called benthos. They generally live in close relationship with the substrate bottom; many such organisms are permanently attached to the bottom. The superficial layer of the soil lining the given body of water, the benthic boundary layer, is an integral part of the benthic zone, as it influences greatly the biological activity which takes place there. Examples of contact soil layers include sand bottoms, rock outcrops, coral, and bay mud.” (from Wikipedia)

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    The strongest evidence of negative subsurface impacts from offshore wind is found during the construction phase but the long-term disturbance of marine ecosystems cannot be ruled out. There are mitigations: (1) Change WHEN installations are built; (2) change WHERE installations are built; (3) change the DESIGN of installations; or (4) TEMPORARILY DISPERSE affected life forms to protect them.

    Potential benefits from well planned installations: (1) reduced trawling; (2) increased nurturing habitats in and around the artificial reefs created by the tower foundations; (3) protected Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD).

    Trawling is said to be worst because of its lack of selectivity. It sweeps up sought and unsought, legal and illegal, abundant and protected fish. Tons are wastefully, senselessly discarded yearly. Ocean wind installations impede trawling, protecting the fish likely to gather there.

    Developers and those responsible for the offshore territories will maximize benefits and minimize harms from increased knowledge of environmental impacts through short-term and on-going studies.

    The objective of study and planning is to make New Energy production less harmful than the energy production it replaces, less harmful than the impacts of climate change, and as minimally impactful as possible.

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    Offshore wind is in its infancy. Total world installed wind capacity at the end of 2009 was 120,798 megawatts in 80 countries. The U.S. took the world lead from Germany in 2009. China is growing even faster. Offshore wind is 1.5% of total world capacity.

    Ocean wind is established in Europe but only supplies 0.3% of EU power. European installations are just beginning to move to deeper waters. Japan is developing ocean wind. China has one installation, in a river, and is planning ocean projects.

    North America has no offshore wind in operation but several projects are planned.

    East African nations are considering offshore wind and wave projects as part of Africa's movement for environmentally-compatible economic development.

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    The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) predicted in 2009’s Oceans of Opportunity that offshore wind could supply 12%-to-16% of EU electricity by 2030 with 25,000 wind turbines on 20,000 square kilometres of the European continental shelf, eliminating 200 million+ tons of EU greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) yearly.

    Existing projects are no more than 20 kilometers from shore and in waters no deeper than 20 meters. They have 2 to 80 turbines but the planned London Array will have 341 turbines. In present installations, turbines are placed 500-to-1000 meters apart. All present projects use turbines anchored in the seabed but floating turbines are in the planning and experimental stages.

    As engineering and logistical obstacles are solved, deeper waters are being considered. Norway is building 45 kilometers from shore and Italy, Japan and Norway are developing floating projects in water depths of 50-to-400 meters.

    The advantages of offshore wind: (1) winds are stronger and more consistent; (2) larger turbines can be used; (3) there is usually less public objection to offshore installations; (4) projects can be located near coastal population centers where transmission is less an obstacle.

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    Disadvantages of offshore projects: (1) Transport, logistics and construction are more difficult; (2) the ocean environment is more harsh and destructive; (3) less is known about the subsurface ocean environment.

    Emissions-reducing policies are largely driving the otherwise very expensive offshore wind’s gowth. Challenges to growth identified by the European Commission: (1) Weaknesses in the overall policy framework; (2) Industrial and technological engineering difficulties; (3) Lack of an integrated planning strategy; (4) Poor procedures for coordination in international waters; (5) Inadequate knowledge and information sharing; (6) Inadequate established law; (7) Transmission bottlenecks.

    Offshore wind is the most developed ocean New Energy, though this is a modest distinction and a short of damning by faint praise, considering how little-developed the ocean hydro (wave, tidal and current) energiess are.

    Academic research on environmental and ecological issues is on-going in Denmark, Germany, the UK and Sweden. But (1) Most research programs are relatively new, relatively limited and relatively non-practical; (2) the majority of studies and experiments are of an isolated species or system and there is very little on ecosystems; (3) there are things about offshore wind that cannot be learned from the study of onshore wind; (4) there are things about offshore wind that cannot be learned from other marine industries; and (5) there is much that can be learned from onshore wind and other marine industries.

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    Ocean resources are precious and limited and should be protected. Wind development in the offshore should be both regulated and supported. The key is obtaining the information ahead of the development instead of because of it.

    Construction impacts on mammals and fish can be mitigated by temporary alternative habitats. Timing and location of developments should be coordinated for minimum impacts.

    Projects should be controlled for spatial planning between turbines to avoid biodiversity hotspots and vulnerable habitats and with sufficient buffer zones around the installations.

    Substantial knowledge gaps and uncertainties remain about the offshore environment. More ecological baseline data is needed. Targeted biological and environmental surveys should be undertaken because research knowledge of one ocean region can be entirely irrelevant to another.

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    Precautions must include conditional permits for construction and operation and monitoring must be on-going. It is not inappropriate to consider a conditional period of several years. Uncertainty grows with the size of the installation.

    Two-year studies required at varying scales and at different scopes and depths for impact assessments are not unreasonable because it takes time to understand ecological effects. The requiored Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) studies are likewise reasonable.

    International guidelines and networks would add to the available information base. There are no such regional or national agreements on acceptable levels of impact or acceptable scales of development to use.

    Baseline data on the marine environment, distribution of important and sensitive species and habitats, and migration routes of birds, fish and mammals is needed. Research on species distribution, annual cycles, and population ecosystem assessment are also needed.

    Species-specific sensitivity indices (now available only for birds) should be developed.

    Much more research is also needed on the effects of noise, the impacts of electromagnetic fields and fish migrations

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    - Dan Wilhelmsson, IUCN Scientific Coordinator/report co-author: “Moving away from oil, gas and coal is vital to avoid the worse impacts of climate change, in this context on marine ecosystems...At the same time, we need to make sure that what we call blue energy, which includes the offshore renewable sources, is also green and doesn’t exacerbate existing stresses on the marine environment.”

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    - From the report: “Ocean resources are limited; therefore comprehensive integrated approaches are essential to manage human activities. Large-scale off shore renewable energy developments constitute a relatively new challenge for integrated coastal management strategies and marine spatial planning. Wind farm development within territorial waters should therefore be incorporated within Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and spatial planning instruments…”

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    - From the report’s conclusion: “As the global off shore wind energy industry further expands and continues to mature, companies and governments will benefit from increased knowledge and experience. Ongoing monitoring will be crucial…Future decisions can integrate new findings and mitigate new threats…By undertaking rigorous impact assessment and systematic environmental management, the industry will continue to learn through the plan, do, check, act approach and apply continuous improvement to their practices and procedures. Through marine spatial planning, cumulative and synergistic impacts can be better managed…Planning and development decisions made at this stage of the development of off shore wind energy will be setting a precedent for future developments, both in Europe and beyond, so it is imperative that shortcomings in research and knowledge are addressed as a matter of urgency.”


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