The conservation community’s strong support for offshore wind development was on display again this week as a trio of groups struck a deal with wind developer wannabes that’s intended to protect endangered North Atlantic right wales while speeding the way for wind farms on the water.
The Conservation Law Foundation, National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council said Deepwater Wind, Energy Management (the company that owns Cape Wind) and NRG Bluewater Wind had agreed to adhere to voluntary measures that go beyond federally mandated whale protections in the Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In a statement, the groups said the measures are focused on “reducing or avoiding sound impacts from exploratory activities that developers use to determine where to build wind farms, such as the construction of temporary towers that measure weather conditions and underwater surveys that assess the geology just beneath the ocean floor.” Acoustic disturbances under the water can disrupt whale communication, safety of migration and feeding, the groups said.
According to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium:
Even though right whales in the 21st century are safe from whaler’s harpoons, they continue to face other serious threats to recovery. Right whales die from collisions with ships, and are often injured and scarred, and sometimes die, from entanglements in fishing gear. Scientists and government officials in both the United States and Canada are working with the shipping and fishing industries to find ways for right whales and humans to coexist safely in the ocean.
Land-based wind power is supported by most mainstream environmental and conservation groups, but particular projects have run into conflict, particularly on the issue of birds. Little opposition to offshore wind has arisen so far. Perhaps that’s because projects remain in the planning stages, but many groups have expressed an eagerness for the U.S. to develop offshore wind power. This past summer, a broad coalition of groups — including the National Wildlife Federation, as well as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, high-profile regional groups and leaders along the East Coast, and even the New Jersey group Grandmothers Mothers and More for Energy Safety – called on the Obama administration to continue to push for offshore wind development.
In announcing the agreement on whale protection, Tricia K. Jedele, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation Rhode Island, said the group shares “with these leading developers a common objective to get offshore wind up and running as quickly as possible as a key tool in the fight against climate change.”
The U.S. Department of Energy says the country could easily deploy 54 gigagwatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, but so far, none has gone in. Meanwhile, Europe is going great guns on offshore wind: According to the European Wind Energy Association [PDF], as of the end of June, Europe had 1,503 grid-connected offshore wind turbines in 56 wind farms across 10 countries, for a total capacity of 4.3 GW.
But there are plenty of signs of change. Cape Wind recently moved closer to locking up buyers for all of its potential power production. The Obama administration said it would schedule lease auctions for development in federal waters off Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia in 2013. And just this week, the U.S. Department of Energy said it would back seven offshore wind demonstration projects – four in the Atlantic – with nearly $170 million.