- The Energy Mix - https://www.theenergymix.com -

EU’s Offshore Renewables Plan Must Not Sacrifice Marine Protections

If the EU does not want to sacrifice its marine ecosystem in its efforts to meet its Paris targets, it must deploy its plans for a 25-fold increase in offshore wind with more monitoring and less rule-breaking, says a new position paper.

While Seas at Risk says [pdf] it welcomes “in principle” the EU’s 2020 Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy, the European association of environmental groups is apprehensive about how the continent’s already over-exploited seas will respond to the arrival of large-scale infrastructure projects—however green they may be.

With its aim of building 300 gigawatts of wind and 40 GW ocean power by 2050, the EU’s Offshore Strategy “also sets out a vision to ensure that the planning of offshore renewable energy is compatible with biodiversity protection and is done in a holistic and regionally coordinated manner,” the association states. But that vision “relies heavily” on the effectiveness of a complex mix of habitat and maritime protection legislation and directives “whose implementation to date does not inspire confidence.”

In fact, a number of recent assessments have found EU protection of the marine environment to be “wide but not deep,” Seas at Risk writes. For example, the Marine Spatial Planning Directive may call “for ecosystem-based, cross-sectoral planning to keep cumulative impacts within ecological limits.” But in practice, that planning “is often done on a sector-by-sector basis, with nature protection considered a ‘user’ like any other, and often sacrificed to make space for others.”

What’s needed is to “apply the precautionary principle at all times,” so that “climate, energy, and marine biodiversity policies reinforce each other,” Seas at Risk states. The extent of a renewable energy grid, the group explains, “is limited by the vulnerability and carrying capacity of marine ecosystems,” meaning that cross-border cooperation and “maritime spatial planning and monitoring”—including vulnerability mapping, data collection and sharing, and limiting bottom-trawling and resource extraction—will be critical. Policy-makers must also remain ever alert and responsive to research and innovation. 

The report calls for EU-wide thresholds for underwater noise, including pile driving and noise from support vessels, during project phase, and calls on the offshore renewable energy sector to apply circular economy principles to ensure systems can be repaired, reused, and recycled.