by In Wales
Fri Sep 7th, 2012 at 02:48:10 AM EST
Fairly local to me is the proposed site of the Atlantic Array Wind Farm, which is facing predictable opposition from environmental campaigners and also locals who fear that the seascape will be ruined by the turbines. I'm personally not bothered by the prospect of turbines being a distant part of the landscape.
However, it is hard to get to the bottom of the potential environmental impact of turbine construction and operation in this area, the Outer Bristol Channel, which environmentalists claim is a breeding ground for Harbour Porpoises.
The Proposal - RWE Innogy
In June 2008, The Crown Estate, which manages the sea bed around the UK, launched the third round of its leasing programme for the delivery of up to 25 gigawatts of new generation capacity from offshore wind by 2020.
RWE npower renewables submitted a bid to The Crown Estate for the Bristol Channel Zone. Our bid was successful and we were awarded the development rights for the zone which is located in the outer Bristol Channel.
In broadly the same area, the previous proposed Scarweather Sands windfarm was withdrawn in 2009 after the project was deemed "commercially unviable" by E.On and Dong Energy apparently due to the challenging seabed conditions and poor wind speed.
Under the new proposals, RWE state that they have conducted two years of surveys on marine mammals and their draft Environmental Impact Assessment is currently being consulted upon.
Following the initial round of consultation the plans were scaled back and the location of the turbines altered to reduce concerns about intrusion on the landscape.
BBC News - Atlantic Array wind farm plan reduced to 278 turbines
Plans for a wind farm in the Bristol Channel have been reduced from 417 to 278 turbines after public talks.
RWE npower renewables says it will also move the planned Atlantic Array Offshore Wind Farm a further 3.7 miles (6 km) away from the Welsh coast to 14 miles (22.5 km) at its closest point.
Here's a map:
The EIA states negligible effect on marine mammals such as the Harbour Porpoise and although temporary relocation may take place during construction, the Porpoises would come back and everything will be just fine. Campaigners state that it isn't just the noise of the construction but also noise from operational turbines that damage the hearing and health of the porpoises. The impact of operational turbines has been entirely overlooked by the report.
From the EIA pdf linked to above, RWE state:
None of the assessments found that significant adverse
effects are likely to occur on seabed habitats or
species, with either negligible or minor adverse effects
identified. Effects were found to be localised and, with
the exception of permanent habitat loss beneath wind
farm structures, temporary in nature.
Cumulative effects arising from the wind farm when
considered together with aggregate extraction activities
are considered to be negligible upon seabed species
within the study area. The potential protection afforded
to these communities as a result of reduced fishing
pressure within Atlantic Array and with the network of
recommended Marine Conservation Zones (rMCZ)
would result in effect of moderate to major beneficial
A lot seems to be hinging on the outcome of a long awaited WWF report into proposed Marine Conservations Zones around the UK. It is argued that this area of the Bristol Channel should be designated as a MCZ which obviously would put a spanner in the turbines.
WWF Cymru have produced a response which I expect will feed into the UK wide one but I'm not too clear on that. There are currently no Marine Protected Areas in Wales.
A report by the
Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) highlighted that 60% of features in marine sites were in
an unfavourable conservation status...
As such WWF considers it appropriate for
Welsh Government to look at restricting damaging and impacting activities in a small number of areas. We,
therefore, support proposals by the Welsh Government to use the provisions in the Marine and Coastal Access
Act to designate some highly protected MCZs (hpMCZs), as part of a wider programme of
If you have time, take a look at the video about a MCZ around Lundy Island which lies off the coast of North Devon, where the Atlantic ocean meets the Bristol Channel. (I can't hear it, so let me know if it is any good!)
Both UK and Welsh Governments are criticised for using a narrow evidence base that favours go-ahead for the wind farm and minimises any view of damage to the Harbour Porpoise population. Evidence to back up the claims of environmental campaigners don't seem to be well enough factored into the decision to push ahead on construction. The Governments still claim that there is not enough evidence that the porpoises do breed in the area. A lot of money and many vested interests are apparent here.
The Countryside Council for Wales have published a massive Marine Mammal Atlas for Wales and in most recent responses to the Atlantic Array proposals CCW talk about the need to mitigate the effect of piling on harbour porpoises.
Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) and the Offshore Marine
Conservation (Natural Habitats. &c.) Regulations 2007 prohibit the deliberate capture, injury,
killing or disturbance of any wild animal of a European Protected Species (EPS). It is now an
offence under both sets of Regulations to deliberately disturb wild animals of a European
Protected Species in any such way as to be likely to significantly affect: a) the ability of any
significant group of animals of that species to survive, breed, rear or nurture their young; or b)
the local distribution or abundance of that species.
Harbour porpoises are a European Protected Species and the bone of contention for campaigners here is that the negative effect cannot be sufficiently mitigated, as suggested by CCW and others.
Apparently RWE in Germany have conceded that they should not undertake any construction work during May to September to avoid threatening the mother porpoises and their calves.
Protecting porpoises' hearing adds millions to wind farm projects - Telegraph
“A porpoise is doomed to die if its hearing is shattered,” Kim Detloff, a marine expert at German nature conservation group NABU, told Bloomberg. “The regulator must sanction developers if they repeatedly violate the noise limit.”
The concerns show that wind developers are beginning to face the same scrutiny as oil companies for projects in sensitive places, a trend likely to add costs and slim profit margins that already are razor-thin. That adds another hurdle to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s effort to build up offshore wind as an alternative to atomic power, a program that may cost €39bn (£31bn) by 2020.
I have only half begun to even start getting my head around all of this and I could point at at least 4 more hefty reports I haven't yet mentioned. So in conclusion, I don't have much of a clue about the balance of Harbour Porpoise vs Windfarm (renewable energy and jobs) argument. I'm open to your views.