The Environmental And Economic Impact Of Offshore Wind Farms
- May 26, 2018 3:41 am GMT
This item is part of the Special Issue - 2018-06 - Offshore Wind, click here for more
As the United States moves towards an incipient boom in offshore wind farms, it might be a good idea to revisit some problems with the technology. Specifically, the hits against offshore wind farms comes from two fronts: economic and environmental.
The environmental impact is yet to be quantified completely due to the breadth of its magnitude as compared to onshore farms. To be precise, onshore farms are comparatively smaller in size, height, and area. Therefore, their environmental impact is mitigated due to these three factors. Offshore wind farms are larger in size and occupy greater area. Their case is further complicated by the fact that their effect spans terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The latter, especially, are delicately balanced chains which can be disrupted by the hulking monsters of offshore wind turbines. For example, noise due to construction can temporarily displace fish and other marine mammals, studies have found.
The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (FbN) in Germany, which is aggressively promoting wind farms as an energy source in order to reach its renewable energy goals, has admitted that offshore wind farms can “sometimes substantially” harm marine wildlife. That harm takes the form of disappearance of resting and feeding habitats to irritation from sound waves due to construction of turbine foundations under the sea, the foundation states.
The economic impact of offshore wind farms comes from loss of livelihood for fisherman. Because areas with wind turbines are off-limits for fishermen, this restricts their area for catching fish and intensifies fishing in other areas. Proponents of offshore wind farms argue that turbines attract fish in their catchment area but fishermen say that they have yet to see evidence from practical experience. To that extent, offshore wind farms can threaten economic livelihoods for fishermen.
Room For Negotiation And Research
As mentioned earlier, current studies on the effect of offshore wind farms on the environment are inconclusive. Part of this is due to the relative novelty of the technology and the extent of its impact across land and water. So it is that every negative seems to be balanced out with a positive. For example, reports of fishes and other sea animals avoiding areas affected by turbine construction have been countered with the other observations that show the development of an artificial reef around the foundations of wind farms.
In the absence of conclusive proof about its impact on the environment, stakeholders that are affected by offshore wind farms have kept the door open for negotiations and agreements. For example, fishermen in the Netherlands have been assured by the government which has “committed to a good position for the fishing industry alongside wind, which is unique.” In the United States, a vigorous debate is taking place to discuss the pros and cons of introducing offshore wind farms off Long Island. New technologies, such as drones and sensors, are being used to monitor seabird movements. For example, VHF transmitters are used to monitor seabird movements within a 20-mile radius. The offshore wind farm close to Block Island wind farm is tracking birds and bats to see how they behave around wind farm structures. Americans are also learning from their counterparts in Europe and have timed construction of wind turbines so as to not disturb fish and marine mammals.
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