Responsible Offshore Wind Requires Environmental Monitoring

Offshore wind is taking off along America’s coastlines, promising healthier air free of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, as well as thousands of well-paying clean energy jobs. Yet even with its immense long-term benefits, offshore wind power, like any type of energy, poses risks to the environment it operates in. While we fight climate change, we can and must also avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential threats to ocean life by taking precautions when siting, constructing, and operating turbines, and committing to research and project monitoring to understand and protect our ocean wildlife. We need offshore wind—and we need to do it right.

As with anything new, you find out as much as you can first, and then learn as you go. If you’re driving somewhere new, you’ll probably use a map or GPS to direct you, but you’re also looking around more carefully as you’re driving and making mental notes for the next trip. And so it’s also critical to do the right research and to monitor the impacts of these first commercial-scale projects in U.S. waters so that we can advise our offshore wind future.

Responsibly developing offshore wind relies on growing our understanding of the potential impacts of offshore wind development on marine and coastal resources, and the effectiveness of mitigation technologies. Better data means industry can identify and address relevant environmental concerns most productively.

Chris Bentley, Flickr

NRDC worked with other environmental groups to develop “Baseline Data Collection and Environmental Monitoring of Offshore Wind Projects.” We urge comprehensive environmental monitoring of offshore wind project sites so that work advances in a way that is protective of our valuable marine resources, enables adaptive management, and provides a trusted foundation for offshore wind energy’s future. Each approved offshore wind Construction and Operations Plan should incorporate a strong plan to monitor the interactions of an area’s wildlife populations and oceanographic conditions before, during, and after project construction to help explain whether and how an offshore wind project impacts its surrounding environment. This work is needed at the project level, but also regionally, and should be coordinated with state and regional scientific efforts to ensure results from individual lease areas can be interpreted within the regional context necessary to address questions related to cumulative impacts across species’ geographic range.

Offshore wind farms are predicted to generate approximately 22 GW—enough to power more than 10 million homes—along the U.S. Atlantic Coast alone within the next decade. Looking at the full scale of offshore wind development reinforces how it’s more important than ever to ensure that wind projects adequately protect the ocean resources we rely on for food, jobs, and recreation. And developing responsibly means prioritizing learning how to build offshore wind with less and less impact as we go.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management should be requiring strong comprehensive monitoring plans, but if the federal government won’t lead the way, developers and state agencies will need to step up to ensure robust environmental monitoring of offshore wind technologies. The future of offshore wind – and our valuable and vulnerable wildlife – relies on it.

About the Authors

Alison Chase

Senior Policy Analyst, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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