Offshore renewable energy installations
OFFSHORE RENEWABLE ENERGY INSTALLATIONS
- The industry is supportive of the development of the offshore energy sector – as it has bolstered the offshore vessels sector, created new business for ports and, ultimately created jobs.
- Whilst we are supportive of windfarms, consideration should always be given in the planning process to shipping lanes and the safety of navigation.
- Government must achieve the right balance between the undisputed benefits of offshore renewable energy capture and the nation’s fundamental trade needs for energy, food and manufactured goods.
- Harnessing wave, wind and tidal energy creates both opportunities and risks for shipping and ports.
- The overall aim is to achieve a position whereby offshore renewable energy proposals are developed without damaging shipping and ports interests.
- Safety at sea – for both ships and seafarers – is paramount.
The maritime sector will pay a vital role in contributing to the Government’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Government policy requires Offshore Renewable Energy Installations (OREIs) to be developed to help meet 20-30% of the UK’s installed electrical generating capacity in the future.
Early OREIs have mostly been wind turbines. The unit size of these has been increasing and their development has been split into different rounds. Round 1 sites are relatively small and close to the shore and have not generally interfered with shipping. Most are now operational. Round 2 sites tend to be much larger and generally further offshore, with the capacity to interfere with shipping and ports. Most Round 2 sites have received consent and construction is underway. Some of the best known sites are the London Array, Walney and West of Duddon Sands.
The planning process for Round 3 sites is now well underway and the first batch of applications for projects is expected in late 2012. The designated areas for potential wind farms are huge and projects could be many miles offshore and straddle shipping lanes. While none have yet been granted planning consent, plans for individual projects in a number of the Round 3 zones are beginning to take shape.
Tidal and wave generators have generally been small demonstration units off Islay andOrkney and in the Pentland Firth, and have met with varying degrees of success. Larger scale developments in these areas are currently approaching the application stage.
OREIs offer good business opportunities for operators of specialist installation vessels and other offshore support vessels, which will grow as building and maintenance programmes for units and their associated power cable links to shore increase.
Ports will play a critical role in providing facilities both for the storage of turbine parts and other components as well as providing bases for installation and service teams. Currently, there is a shortage of port capacity in some areas and the renewables sector is in consultation with ports on how these capacity constraints can be overcome.
Safety of navigation is a key consideration throughout the planning, construction, operational and decommissioning phases of OREIs. Wind farms create collision risks (both vessel-to-structure and vessel-to-vessel) as well as causing interference with marine radar. Developers are required to undertake a full navigational safety risk assessment during planning.
In addition, OREIs pose two further potential operational threats. The first is to the right of innocent passage, as enshrined in UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Units may force ships to divert from their normal routes, which will have negative environmental and economic consequences. The second threat is to ports, as they may be adversely affected by changes to shipping patterns and have their sea access hindered or even blocked.
- The consultation process has improved after a poor start. This has been achieved through sustained dialogue between the industry, developers, the Crown Estate, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Transport.
- Initially there were difficulties communicating the shipping industry’s concerns to certain developers, although this has largely been eradicated. However, there is still a feeling that some developers intend only to be “seen to consult” and have not taken the industry’s concerns seriously.
- Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the potential commercial impacts of OREI development. While navigational safety risk assessment is already required, there should also be a requirement on developers to assess the potential economic impacts of their proposals (e.g. potential trade restrictions caused by route deviation or reduced port access). The commercial risks to regular passenger ferry services, where even small increases in voyage time or distance can be extremely damaging, require particular consideration.
- The scale of potential Round 3 development has created greater need for the cumulative impacts of wind farm development to be assessed, as assessment of individual projects in isolation often does not provide a true picture of the impacts on shipping and ports. This requires developers to work together and be increasingly transparent. The Crown Estate has recently completed a strategic assessment of cumulative impacts to help address this issue.
- The standard of navigational risk assessment often varies widely between projects. Government guidance needs to be refreshed in order to reflect the new challenges created by large Round 3 developments.
- There is currently no agreement on acceptable safe shipping channel widths through the Round 3 zones. Previous standards are no longer applicable due to the increased scale of the zones. Channels must be wide and numerous enough to ensure safe passage through the zones, minimise route deviation and ensure continued access to ports.
- The decision by the Crown Estate to reopen Round 1 & Round 2 sites and invite developers to apply for an extension to existing sites has created a new set of challenges for navigational safety and shipping routes. Two of the potential extension sites, are in close proximity to large Round 3 zones and create potential for narrow “pinch points” to be created if developers do not work closely together to assess cumulative impacts.