The risks of wind energy to marine ecosystems

<span class ="caption"> Cap de Creus, Girona, seen from the sea where the deployment of the Tramuntana offshore wind farm is planned. </span> <span class ="attribution"> <a class= Shutterstock / Damsea ” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcxNi42NjY2NjY2NjY2NjY2/–~B/aD0xMDc1O3c9MTQ0MDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcxNi42NjY2NjY2NjY2NjY2/–~B/aD0xMDc1O3c9MTQ0MDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/”/>Cap de Creus, Girona, seen from the sea where the deployment of the Tramuntana offshore wind farm is planned. Shutterstock / Damsea

Faced with climate change, it is urgent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This implies reducing energy consumption and using renewable energies such as offshore wind, designated by the European Union (EU) as a key sector of the so-called “blue economy”.

For Europe to be climate neutral by 2050, it is estimated that offshore wind power should provide 30% of the electricity demand of the Member States. This leads to an increase in offshore wind capacity from 12 GW today to 300 GW in 2050.

To meet these goals, offshore (offshore) wind farms have been installed in the North Sea and the Baltic. Its implementation has required the evaluation of the environmental impact on ecosystems, strictly following the regulations established by the EU.

On the Spanish coast, where companies are interested in promoting offshore wind farms using Next Generation European funds, scientifically robust and independent studies must urgently be carried out on their potential impacts based on their particular ecological and socio-economic characteristics.

Risks to marine ecosystems

Take the Mediterranean coast as an example. The Mediterranean is a semi-closed sea with great biodiversity and is ecologically very fragile due to the multiple human pressures it experiences. The installation of wind farms constitutes a new risk for Mediterranean ecosystems.

Studies carried out in the Nordic seas, reviewed during the European Pharos4MPAs project and the recent IUCN report, indicate that the construction, operation and decommissioning phases of offshore wind farms carry the risk of collision of birds, mammals and sea turtles with the installations.

These infrastructures also pose other environmental problems such as the following:

Noise pollution (caused by turbines and the assembly of structures) for mammals and other marine animals.

Heavy metal contamination from sacrificial anodes.

Damage to the seabed by anchors and the laying and deployment of cables.

Destruction or modification of habitats and their biodiversity.

Harmful effects of electromagnetic fields from cables on fish and other fishery resources.

It is important to remember that the northern half of the Catalan coast is home to one of the most important marine biodiversity heritages in the entire Mediterranean.

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The Tramuntana offshore wind farm

On the other hand, the Spanish coast lacks a wide continental shelf (with some exceptions). That is why many human activities and protected marine spaces are concentrated in a small space. Offshore wind farms are also projected in this strip near the coast, because beyond that, the depths would be excessive and not suitable for anchoring.

An example is the recently proposed Tramuntana offshore wind farm between Cap de Creus and the Gulf of Roses (Costa Brava). It includes the installation of 65 turbines with a power equivalent to almost 90% of the electrical energy required by the province of Girona.

The location of the Tramuntana park (including the electricity transmission cables to the ground station) would be adjacent to a wide range of protected areas: a Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA Espacio Marino del Empordà), a Site of Community Importance ( SCI Western Submarine Canyons System of the Gulf of León), two marine reserves (ZEPA, SCI and Specially Protected Areas of Importance for the Mediterranean, ZEPIM Cap de Creus and El Montgrí-Les Medes-El Baix Ter), the Migration Corridor of Cetaceans of the Mediterranean (declared Marine Protected Area by the Ministry for Ecological Transition in 2018) and the Natura 2000 area of ​​the Bay of Roses (maritime area of ​​the Aiguamolls del Empordà).

In this context, an exhaustive analysis of the potential large-scale ecosystem damage – beyond the area occupied by wind turbines – in these ecologically fragile areas is required.

Furthermore, extreme weather events related to climate change (such as the Gloria storm in January 2020) can deteriorate facilities and pose additional dangers to the natural environment in the longer term. Nor should we forget the increasing risk of accidents (collisions of ships with turbines, risk of fire in the turbines, etc.) that can lead to serious damage to people and the surrounding environment.

Impact on the landscape and coasts

On the other hand, unlike the Nordic seas, in many areas of the Spanish coastline the landscape is a key element of identification and link both for the local population and for the millions of tourists who visit our coasts in order to obtain the benefits that we favors the marine environment.

Contact with the sea is healthy, allows recreational activities, and constitutes natural and cultural heritage. For this reason, the impact of mega offshore wind farms in areas such as Cap de Creus, the Gulf of Roses and Montgrí-Illes Medes, with a valuable landscape and a unique archaeological and monumental complex (Empúries), is worrying.

Nor can it be ignored that the deployment of large infrastructures will be required for the assembly, construction and maintenance of large wind farms, with the consequent industrialization of the ports and the adjacent coast. Furthermore, these large wind farms may in the future lead to the creation of hydrogen production plants to store the wind energy produced. This industrialization of the coast constitutes an additional pressure on the coastal and marine environment.

The questions generated by projects such as the Tramuntana have led us to draw up a manifesto, supported by more than 100 scientists from more than 20 Spanish universities, research centers and other scientific institutions, requesting public administrations to consider, rigorously and independently of what that companies estimate the risks of offshore wind farms for the environment and reconsider the offshore wind strategy to adapt it to the ecological and socioeconomic peculiarities of the Spanish coast, with a study of alternative and dimensioned projects.

The impacts of the wind farm and associated infrastructures, and their role in the local, regional and state energy mix, must be evaluated. And all evaluations and analyzes must be publicly accessible and traceable to their funding sources.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

Alberto Olivares receives funds from the State Research Agency, Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Nothing to declare in relation to the subject of this article. Elisa Berdalet Andrés has received funds for fundamental marine scientific research from the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, Feder funds, the ERANET Era for Climate Services and FORMAS (Sweden).

Nothing to declare

Ana Sabatés Freijo, Antonio Turiel, Josep Lloret, Josep Vila Subirós, Josep-Maria Gili and Rafael Sardá Borroy do not receive salaries, nor do they carry out consultancy work, nor do they own shares, nor do they receive financing from any company or organization that can benefit from this article, and have declared lack of relevant links beyond the academic position cited.

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