New database aims to aid EIA for offshore wind

A UK-wide environmental evidence register for offshore wind farms was launched today, providing a list of evidence gaps and relevant research for impacts on the seabed, marine mammals and seabirds.

The project is being delivered by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), working alongside DEFRA and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other stakeholders. It is intended to support the knowledge base for the sustainable development of new offshore wind farms. 

The Offshore Wind Environmental Evidence Register (OWEER) should fulfil a number of objectives: increasing awareness of existing environmental impact assessment (EIA) research, avoiding duplication, identifying key funders and researchers, while disseminating new knowledge and encouraging collaboration, debate and change within the industry. 

The five-year programme is backed by £25m of initial investment from the Crown Estate’s Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme (OWECP). 

Its entries – only 31 so far – include research on how pile driving, used to fix wind turbine towers to the sea bed, affects seals. It also mentions studies on the impacts of noise generated from disposal of unexploded ordnance and on applying biodiversity net gain offshore.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We’re pleased to lead on the delivery of the first UK-wide environmental evidence register for offshore wind farms. A greater understanding of the impact these developments can have on our marine environment is vital as we protect our precious marine life and meet our ambitious offshore wind commitments.”

“Ensuring that decisions on future offshore wind farm development are based on the best possible scientific information is vital in helping to deliver the infrastructure needed to achieve net zero emissions, while maintaining healthy, biodiverse seas,” said OWECP manager Mandy King.

The announcement follows letters sent in March by Lord Teverson, the chair of the House of Lords’ now-defunct EU Environment Sub-Committee, to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and environment secretary George Eustice about the sector’s ecological impacts.

“The government’s target to develop 40 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 will make a vital contribution to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Witnesses did however suggest that much more work is urgently needed to minimise the possible impacts of this development on the range of flora and fauna that make up the North Sea’s ecology,” he wrote.

“We strongly believe that more and better research is key. We heard that despite positive initiatives like the OWECP, the cumulative environmental impacts of large-scale offshore wind deployment are poorly understood. We also heard that research into technologies that can reduce these impacts is not incentivised sufficiently. In addition, the information held by universities is not being fully harnessed. It is clear that in this area of major development it is not possible to make fully informed and sometimes difficult decisions without the right data,” he continued.

Teverson also urged the government to mandate the publication of data underpinning EIAs, in the same manner that oil and gas firms operating in Norwegian waters must.

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