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Firefly (Bandibuli) floating wind farm project
Ulsan, South Korea
Equinor’s 750 MW Firefly floating wind farm project is being developed in deep waters off Ulsan, where the South Korean government plans to generate over 6 GW of electricity from floating offshore wind by 2030. Once developed, this wind farm area could be one of the largest in the world. RPS’ Korean team is project-managing and coordinating the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the project, as well as providing vital local knowledge. It is supported by RPS subject matter experts around the world, such as our highly experienced offshore wind industry technical specialists in Australia and the UK.
RPS has previously supported Equinor in gaining an Electricity Business Licence for the project by deploying two Floating LiDAR buoys and measuring wind speeds over a full year, with very high success despite encountering a typhoon! To support the ESIA/EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), we draw on our many years of experience in this field and close links with local partners. We are delighted to have been selected by our client Equinor, which is recognised for its own high standards for Health, Safety and Security, and for environmental stewardship.
In order to obtain project finance from most international financial institutions, developers must meet international performance standards set by the IFC (the International Finance Corporation). The Equator Principles (EP) provide a common framework for assessing and managing environmental and social risk. RPS is leading the ESIA for Firefly to build on the local EIA and meet these standards.
EP4, the version of the Equator Principles introduced in 2020, states that both local and international standards apply to offshore wind development in Korea. (Previously, EP3 required Korean projects to meet local standards only). For developers, this has meant adjusting to new requirements, including the need for increased ESG support, which is in limited supply in Korea. Being able to offer international standard advice is becoming increasingly important. RPS Korea ESIA Manager Dong-Joo Kim explains that, “local and international standards are becoming increasingly aligned here. Eight of Korea’s major banks have now adopted the Equator Principles.”
The Firefly project must also satisfy local requirements under Korea’s EIA Act and local regulations on completing an Environmental Impact Assessment. The various consents and permits needed for approval to develop a project range from maritime traffic safety assessment to other elements that are especially relevant in Korea. For example, addressing concerns raised by fisheries stakeholders is a very significant issue in Korea, and RPS is supporting Equinor with international standard advice in an ESIA Stakeholder Engagement Plan.
RPS’ local partner SEKWANG Engineering Consultants is conducting the local EIA, a proportion of which has similar requirements to the ESIA. RPS’ approach is to complete the EIA to as high a standard as possible, to reduce the time and costs associated with carrying out separate assessments. Our team also points to effective scoping as a crucial part of ensuring that international requirements are met as much as possible during the EIA delivery.
Cumulative impact assessment is particularly important given the scale of development at Ulsan, where a number of separate projects are proposed by different developers. This kind of assessment method looks at the likely effects arising from a wind farm project alongside the likely effects of other developments. Given the size of the Ulsan wind area, it will be important for developers to understand impacts such as barrier effects on migratory wildlife. They will also need to account for appropriate shipping lanes to accommodate the high number of vessels transiting the area.
Korea’s regulatory environment for offshore wind is somewhat complex and amendments to the country’s EIA Act don’t happen rapidly. However, there are regular updates to guidelines from government ministries (such as The Ministry of Environment and The Ministry of Fisheries). RPS follows these changes closely in order to keep the project, our teams and our partners up-to-date with current and emerging requirements. In the case of cumulative impact assessment, the EIA Act doesn’t require this, but Korean ministry guidelines now include it.
The RPS Korea team, led by Country Manager Sam Roh, sees working on one of Korea’s first offshore wind projects as an opportunity to set a high bar, starting off on a strong footing towards developing renewable energy sustainably. Sam Roh says:
“By applying international standards, we’re helping to shape how Korean standards develop. We’re also increasing the capability and capacity of local EIA contractors by passing on knowledge of international best practice in areas such as scoping and carrying out baseline studies, and monitoring and mitigation measures.”
The team are excited to meet the challenges of assessing the cumulative effects affecting the Firefly project, and of being one of the first projects in Korea to submit an EIA report. As with RPS’ work on Australia’s Star of the South, the achievement is about more than being able to claim a “first”: it also refers to working in a new region under evolving regulations, often without the wealth of baseline data that is available in more mature offshore wind regions of the world.
Dong-Joo Kim highlights RPS’ strengths in “finding balance between environmental considerations and development needs. What is more, when we are working on this important project for Equinor and Korea, we are able to learn from cutting-edge RPS studies that inform the industry as a whole.”