The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hosted this workshop to engage with European scientists and regulators who have experience in offshore wind energy projects. The goal of this workshop was for BOEM to learn from the European experience with offshore wind development about the types of information that should be gathered during site assessment and characterization activities that best informs decisions about the siting of offshore wind facilities and potential mitigation measures. Three areas of particular interest were the focus of this workshop – birds, benthic habitats, and archaeology. These areas were selected because of the timeliness with respect to the preparation and release of BOEM guidelines for information collection. While the current focus is on pre-construction information collection, BOEM recognizes that this information is also the foundation for post-construction impact evaluation.
BOEM sought to learn from the European experience in order to maximize the potential success of U.S.-based offshore renewable energy. Participation during the workshop of individuals representing five of the six European countries with operating offshore wind energy facilities enabled BOEM to compare and contrast strategies for site assessment activities and managing the stewardship of environmental and archaeological resources on the OCS. The workshop was held on February 26-28, 2013 at the Crowne Plaza in Herndon, Virginia. The workshop as attended by approximately 110 persons, including the 17 invited European experts who were at the core the technical subject breakout sessions. The workshop started with a plenary session for all attendees during which some key BOEM managers welcomed the participants and provided an overview of BOEM’s goals for the workshop. The first morning’s plenary session was followed by a day and a half of detailed technical discussion in the three separate subject matter breakout sessions: avian, benthic habitats, and archaeological resources. The technical breakout sessions each followed a general format where invited European experts discussed a list of questions that had been developed by BOEM technical staff prior to the workshop. As a result of the different technical subject topics and the diversity among the scientists, regulators and other participants in the sessions, each of the individual breakout sessions progressed in somewhat different fashion.
BOEM’s goal for the third morning of the workshop was to use a model that is being developed to evaluate the wide array of factors and to assess methods of bringing together the three different topical areas into a cohesive method for communicating decisions regarding offshore wind siting. After a presentation about the model, the breakout groups discussed how their particular resource of interest could be incorporated in the model and the challenges that arise.
Within the avian break out session, the most widely agreed upon point between the European experts was the need for robust survey designs that clearly define the conditions under which surveys will be carried out and also those conditions that are unsuitable for avian surveys. Once surveys have been completed the results should be made available to insure consistency in the quality of data and allow better functionality for review and conclusions, publication of data collection methods, protocols, and results should be required. There was also significant general agreement that both pre- and post-construction surveys should be tightly focused on answering specific questions about effects of wind farms by comparison of pre- and post-construction data.
In essence, no preconstruction survey should be undertaken without knowing what is desired to be known from the post-construction survey and how the post-construction survey will be conducted. Experience has shown the Europeans that pre-construction surveys did not provide the right data for comparisons with post-construction information. Furthermore, there was also strong general agreement that surveys must include a large enough area around a wind farm, not just the actual proposed project footprint because birds are often clumped and may use different areas within the vicinity of the wind farm from year-to-year.
From the benthic habitat break out session, the following suggestions were made relative to guiding the collection and assessment of benthic data during the offshore wind farm development process:
- Need to accept some level of impact. Local effect likely, but may not be meaningful at the regional scale. Focus effort to understand/evaluate ecosystem service.
- If you want to detect a change, define a change to monitor for, don’t just monitor. Need to find a cause and effect within a wind farm area to understand/monitor.
- If you don’t have enough information to establish impact thresholds, take an adaptive management approach. Adapt policy/regulations as you learn more. If regulations are too stringent, you may end up monitoring for illogical parameters.
- Develop an inventory of knowledge gaps and design monitoring program to fill in gaps. Possibly coordinate monitoring efforts across individual developers to ensure robust monitoring at the proper scale.
Participants in the marine archaeology sessions agreed that the discussion in this session was tremendously beneficial for both the Americans and the Europeans. It is strongly recommended that this line of communication be maintained for the benefit of both groups. The Europeans acknowledged that their industry has developed numerous conventions that are not always evident, but that a forum such as this forces reflection and consideration of better alternatives. Similarly, the Americans acknowledged that qualified researchers and reviewers (technical experts) are very limited in this country and that collaboration with European counterparts will be a tremendously valuable strategy for managing this resource limitation until the US offshore renewable energy industry becomes more mature. Marine archaeology is highly interdisciplinary and requires a high degree of technical specialty. Based on the discussion, it is evident that the remote sensing requirements are well established but that the physical sampling required to identify human activity is the biggest challenge facing marine archaeologists. Definitive indicators of human activity are required to differentiate paleolandforms from submerged archaeological sites. Finally, good archaeology and good development are not contradictions. BOEM and developers working together forms a starting point. Combining information from multiple surveys to feed common goals will help historic property identification surveys become more efficient and minimize the perception of burden.
The workshop provided an opportunity for BOEM and other Federal agencies, as well as the interested public, to discuss key questions about offshore wind development with scientists and regulators from Europe, who have direct experience. The format of the workshop allowed for an interactive opportunity to fully discuss, beyond the initial questions posed, the lessons learned from the experience of European colleagues in siting, permitting, developing, and operating offshore wind energy projects. While much was learned, the most important lesson was that we 3 must maintain the lines of communication and continue to learn from each other as wind development progresses into new areas, with new technologies.