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The need for industry collaboration on baseline surveys for offshore wind

RPS offshore approvals and marine specialists Tamara Al-Hashimi and Jeremy Fitzpatrick on why joining forces on environmental baseline surveys could help accelerate offshore wind development for everyone.  

Evidence-based, purpose-led consulting solutions > Explore our insights
02 December 2022 | 1 min read
Tamara Al-Hashimi Jeremy Fitzpatrick

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A new approach to conducting ecological baseline studies needed

It’s safe to say there is a lot happening in the Australian offshore wind space right now. Governments and regulatory bodies are busy creating policies that will support the development of the offshore energy infrastructure needed to meet our renewable energy targets, while developers are working to map the pathways that their offshore wind projects will take − from investigation to approval, construction, and operation. 

While work − and indeed infrastructure development − in Australian waters and coastal zones has been going on for years (for oil and gas, shipping, telecommunications etc), the scale of ecological information required to inform the environmental assessment of planned offshore wind assets, is something entirely new.

We need a new approach to conducting ecological baseline studies that provides understanding at biologically relevant scales, supports regulators in making decisions and maximises cost efficiencies for offshore wind farm developers.

Offshore wind farm - turbines in a row both on and offshore

Understanding Australian marine environments

To build a successful offshore wind industry in Australia, proponents, regulators, and other stakeholders need to have confidence that the wind farms we build will meet renewable energy needs without unacceptable harm to marine environments. In order to do this, we need to understand those marine environments.

Over the last few years, RPS’ marine science team has harnessed its extensive history in offshore surveys and knowledge of Australian marine environments to design long-term baseline survey programs for offshore wind farms. This work is supporting the industry’s first movers to gather this critical information.

Our surveys cover a wide range of marine plants and animals, from microscopic invertebrates to whales, and from the seabed to the skies. We deliver these surveys to the highest levels of scientific robustness and high health and safety standards.

Gaps in our knowledge

At the moment, Australia has general information about many marine species. What we often lack is the detailed data needed to assess what an offshore wind development might mean for those species.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) for offshore wind projects requires scientifically rigorous, detailed, time series data about how and where these animals spend their time. This is currently lacking for many of the areas that will be declared for future offshore wind development.

Two seals exiting the water on white sand beach - clear water and shore break in background with another seal riding the wave into the beach

Robust baseline surveys need time, but time is in short supply

Baseline surveys must run for long enough to capture and describe seasonal variability and the complex migratory patterns of marine species in relation to license areas. These patterns may change from year to year so multi-year surveys are generally required

Collecting good data over multiple years adds confidence to the patterns we detail, and to the assessment of impacts on the environment. This is particularly the case in areas where no consistent research has been done and we are establishing baseline information for the very first time.

The spectres of climate change and global energy instability are hanging over our heads. Baseline environmental studies for offshore wind will be vital for solving these challenges as they will enable an offshore clean energy industry to flourish. But with the way we are currently going about them as an industry may be holding us back…

It’s a problem of time and resources. It’s a question of efficiency. It requires collaboration!

Why it’s time to team up

Marine studies are often done to support individual developments. But that means every project is essentially starting from scratch and may repeat work already undertaken by an adjacent developer. Smarter resourcing through working together would yield a better outcome.

Working independently doesn’t mean proponents won’t get the data they need for good project and environmental outcomes. But through collaboration we could generate better and more consistent data, and give greater confidence to the community and regulators that the industry can be effectively managed. We can avoid duplication of effort in the same or adjacent areas, and provide a solution that will benefit everyone’s EIA.

 

Related read: How partnerships will help us address the offshore wind industry's challenges

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