Offshore Wind Plants: Good For Critters?

Offshore wind-power plants not only aren’t bad for fauna – they might actually bring benefits, including providing new habitat for various sea creatures. That’s the surprising conclusion of researchers from the Dutch university and research center Wageningen UR, the consultancy Bureau Waardenburg and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

A few caveats come with this research: It focused on just one offshore wind plant, a 36-turbine operation 10 to 18 kilometers off the Holland coast in the North Sea. Also, the research was financed by the joint venture between Shell and Dutch energy company Nuon that built the Egmond aan Zee Wind Farm. That said, the report was published in the peer-reviewed journal “Environmental Research Letters.”

Dutch offshore wind-power study, environmental impact

image via Nuon

The researchers said their study on the short-term effects of the plant found it “provides a new natural habitat for organisms living on the sea bed such as mussels, anemones, and crabs, thereby contributing to increased biodiversity.” The widely spaced turbines also provided “an oasis of calm in a relatively busy shipping area,” the researchers said, noting that “some fish species, such as cod, seem to find shelter inside the farm. More porpoise clicks were recorded inside the farm than in the reference areas outside the farm.”

As for birds, “Several bird species seem to avoid the park while others are indifferent or are even attracted,” the researchers reported. Although they said they observed few bird-blade collisions, the researchers did conclude that “rotating blades can also have a significant disruptive effect on some species of birds,” and suggested that “by choosing the location (of wind farms) appropriately, these effects can be minimized.”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1165255103 Ron Huber

    How silly – A study of ecological changes taking place in the _first two weeks_ of operations, and from that, Mr Danko draws a general conclusion that ocean windmills are AOK fish-wise? Not so fast!u00a0 Ecological changes take place on greater time scales than that. I suspect this research paper innocuous as it is – saying that once the poles cables etc were in place,u00a0 organisms colonized the newly introduced surfaces. Golly that’s exciting.u00a0 As to the impacts on longer term processes like fishu00a0 larvae migration routesu00a0 will take a year and more to even begin to discern.u00a0 Releaseing a report about the opening of the windfarm is so premature that it is surprising it was publicedu00a0 – the reviewers shoud have said, come back in a year when you have some lengthier data. nTry this norwegian report from 2008 as a start (pdf). http://tinyurl.com/oceanwindmill-impacts

  • Pete Danko

    Ron,

    Pardon me for such a belated reply to your message — just noticed it now! A couple of points of clarification:–I’m not drawing any conclusions here; the study’s authors are.–The study was conducted over the course of several years, not two weeks. Baseline measurements were done well before construction began. Different aspects were monitored at different times, but the most intense study appears to have gone from the period 2007 (when the turbines began operating) to 2009, with monitoring of visual and radar data on flying birds continuing until May 2011.Thank you for the link to the Norwegian study. Definitely provides food for thought, particularly, as you suggest, regarding the long-term potential impacts that large-scale offshore wind development might have. I do note that it is an entirely theoretical study — that is, the authors did not look at any operating wind farms at all. Still, a valuable contribution to the literature and we should hope that it will lead to research into whether this theoretical effect actually occurs.Pete