The UK government is committed to delivering 15 per cent of all energy consumed by transport, heat and power generation from renewable sources by 2020. As of mid-2009, the UK generates less than 2 per cent of its energy from renewable sources and its total energy consumption is rising. Large-scale renewable energy development is required to achieve the 2020 target, and offshore renewable energy is expected to be a major contributor.
Surfing is a growing recreational activity in the UK and is an important socio-economic contributor to the local and regional communities where waves are consistently surfable. The surfing community is concerned that offshore renewable energy development threatens surfing resources and recreation. To date, studies on surfing resources and recreation suggest that the impacts of offshore windfarm developments and tidal stream demonstrator projects are negligible and the impacts of wave demonstrator projects are small but of concern to surfers until proven otherwise by monitoring. However, the future developments proposed to deliver the 2020 target are substantially larger than those studied to date, which suggests the impacts on surfing are going to be larger too.
The surfing community is also concerned that it and its views are being ignored or overlooked. For example, the recently completed Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process is supposed to consider the environmental implications of the Round 3 seabed leasing plan for offshore wind energy development. However, the resulting SEA Report (DECC, 2009) contains no reference to surfing resources or recreation, and its annex covering the environmental baseline for tourism and recreation at best contains a few anecdotal references to surfing in some areas (e.g. “Casual surfing, canoeing and wind-surfing take place from many of the Region’s beaches…”) and contains no references at all to surfing in other areas, including the areas covering south-west of England where surfing contributes £21M per annum to the local economy of Cornwall alone (Arup, 2001).
SAS believe that climate change poses a major threat to recreational water users, the marine environment and the global environment as a whole, and agrees that action needs to be taken to combat it. SAS also believe that offshore renewable energy has the potential to help tackle climate change, but is concerned that future development has the potential to cause negative impacts on surfing resources and recreation (SAS, 2007).
Impacts on surfing resources and recreation will happen if and when offshore renewable energy developments affect the coastal wave dynamics and coastal morphology. The presence and operation of energy generation infrastructure could cause waves to be weakened, cause them to approach the beach from a different direction, cause them to interfere with each other, or cause them to break differently at the beach, all of which could potentially damage surfing recreation.
SAS recognise that offshore renewable energy development is regulated through legally implemented consenting procedures, and that these procedures include Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of individual developments and thereby provide the most appropriate opportunities for ensuring that the surfing community is engaged and impacts of surfing resources and recreation are robustly assessed. For this reason, SAS will consider each development proposal on a case-by-case basis before deciding whether to support or object to consents.
Against this background, SAS decided to produce a guidance document to promote the surfing community’s interests, to protect surfing resources and recreation, and to support the EIA process concerning offshore renewable energy development.
The guidance provided is divided into the following sections:
- part 2: surfing resources and recreation
- part 3: impacts on surfing resources and recreation
- part 4: guidance on environmental impact assessment.
This guidance builds upon existing generic guidance already applied to EIAs for offshore renewable energy development and so its application should make future EIAs better informed and more robust, but should not make them substantially more onerous. Since the time taken for a development to gain consent is in part related to the quality of the EIA process, then the adoption of this guidance should facilitate the interests of those who want to protect surfing recreation and resources and those who want to develop offshore renewable energy.