Report informs NJ stakeholders about policies, monitoring methods of potential ecological impacts from offshore wind installations

October 21, 2020

Offshore wind energy is poised to expand dramatically along the eastern United States. However, the promise of sustainable energy also brings potential impacts on marine ecosystems from new turbines and transmission infrastructure.

The New Jersey Climate Change Alliance, facilitated by Rutgers University through the Rutgers Climate Institute and the Bloustein School, recently released a whitepaper to inform government officials, scientists, and stakeholders in New Jersey about the current policies and monitoring methods other jurisdictions use to monitor potential ecological impacts from offshore wind installations.

In “Ecological Monitoring and Mitigation Policies and Practices at Offshore Wind Installations in the United States and Europe,” Michael C. Allen, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Rutgers University and Matthew Campo, Senior Research Specialist, Bloustein School Environmental Analysis & Communications Group, Rutgers University reviewed policy documents in the eastern U.S. and Europe, reviewed the scientific literature and conducted stakeholder interviews in Spring 2020.

They found that:

  1. Short-term (3-5 year) project-specific efforts dominate coordinated regional and project life duration ecological monitoring efforts at offshore wind farms in North America and Europe.
  2. Eastern U.S. states use permitting processes, coastal zone management authorities, and sometimes require ecological monitoring/mitigation plans as part of the energy procurement process. However, publicly available federal and state-level supporting documents only vaguely describe ecological impact monitoring plans, technologies, and duration; and are unclear in differentiating required activities from recommended guidelines for monitoring.
  3. A rich scientific literature forms an existing knowledge, based on ecological monitoring at offshore wind installations. However, the scientific literature points to challenges in evaluating ecological impacts as monitoring technologies rapidly develop and scientists learn more about the confounding factors of climate change and the natural variability of ecological systems.
  4. Interview participants described a patchwork approach to ecological monitoring developing in the U.S., with developers committing resources to various research groups and taxa with few unified regional strategies. Such a path may lead to inconsistent requirements and coordination among states, inadequate spatial and temporal scale of monitoring, and a lack of mechanisms for developers to fund coordinated, regional approaches.
  5. Interview participants expressed optimism that emerging regional ecological monitoring entities (e.g., the Responsible Offshore Science Alliance or a Regional Wildlife Science Entity) could help coordinate processes for collecting and managing data to address concerns at a regional level. Successful collaborative efforts to develop baseline regional data-sharing, at a minimum, can increase the chances that scientists will be better able assess cumulative environmental impacts of offshore wind installations in the future.

Ultimately, the review reveals that the exact nature of ecological impact monitoring at offshore wind installations in North America is still developing. State agencies and offshore wind stakeholders have the opportunity to address regional and collaborative monitoring challenges to increase the likelihood of advancing ecological monitoring investments and practices for future development.

Read the full report here.

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