Organisations working on the natural environment have written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma seeking changes to the planning and consenting regime for offshore wind projects
The 13 November 2020 letter to the Prime Minister expresses concern that ambitious goals for UK offshore wind capacity could lead to damage to the marine environment and to protected habitats. Concern has long been expressed about the effects of large-scale offshore wind projects by bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), particularly about the effects of some UK Round 3 projects.
It was submitted to Boris Johnson shortly before the launch of the Coalition for Offshore Energy and Nature, a partnership between leading environmental NGOs, transmission system operators and the wind industry. The coalition’s stated aim is to ensure that Europe can deliver plans to massively expand offshore wind capacity while preserving nature and marine ecosystems.
The signatories to the letter told the Prime Minister, “We support your ambition for large-scale expansion of offshore renewable energy generation but – in the context of a climate and nature emergency – it is vital this does not happen at the expense of our marine environment.”
Climate and nature “must be prioritised” in future use and planning of the North Sea and our marine habitats, the letter states.
The environmental organisations believe the planning and consenting regime for offshore wind and other marine activities “is not fit for purpose” and say it fails to take a strategic view of how energy infrastructure, fisheries and other marine activities can be accommodated in a way that enables ecosystems to recover.
“As our seas become more crowded with turbines… and other development, this approach will become completely unsustainable,” said the authors of the letter.
“Without reform, species extinction is a real risk if we do not adopt an approach to planning, consenting and grid development that prioritises zero-carbon power and nature recovery over other uses of the sea.
“To meet carbon budgets and support healthy and wildlife-rich seas, the marine planning system must be overhauled to operate at a strategic level, rather than on a project-by-project basis.”
The environmental groups said offshore wind infrastructure “can be designed sensitively for nature” if a transparent system of strategic and spatial planning for windfarms and grid infrastructure is put in place.
“Each new development must be planned in the light of better mapping and data about the habitats affected and the cumulative effects of multiple activities,” they argue.
“Alongside energy development, a more strategic approach is needed for mitigation, compensation and recovery, so that where damage to the natural environment does take place, the right measures are designed to support ecosystem restoration.
“This should include making space for nature-based solutions that focus on tackling both the climate and the nature crises.
“We will not pretend that trade-offs can be avoided… Fully or highly protected marine protected areas across at least 30% of the sea will be needed to help set our seas on a path to recovery, and must be accompanied by better monitoring, regulation and enforcement.
“These changes could support a triple win of a world-leading marine renewables industry, increased blue carbon storage and recovery of marine species and habitats.
“This is an issue that countries are grappling with across Europe and around the world and – to be a genuine leader in offshore wind and marine management – the UK must prove that we can have clean power and thriving marine ecosystems."
The letter was signed by 18 leading environmental and wildlife bodies including The Wildlife Trusts; RSPB; Greenpeace UK; the Marine Conservation Society; WWT; Friends of the Earth; and Wildlife and Countryside Link.