The European directive 2001/77/EG imposes upon each member state a target contribution figure for the production of electricity from renewable energy sources that should be achieved in 2010. For Belgium, this target figure is 6 % of the total energy consumption. In January 2008, the European Commission launched its new Climate Plan, and a new target for Belgium was set at 13 % by 2020. Since the Royal Decree of 17 May 2004 assigned a zone for the production of electricity in the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS), three companies, C-Power (Thorntonbank: 60 turbines, 330 MW), Belwind (Blighbank: 110 turbines, 330 MW) and Eldepasco (“Bank zonder Naam”: 36 turbines, 180-252 MW), were granted a domain concession and an environmental permit to build and exploit an offshore wind farm. In 2009, early 2010, three other companies, Norther, Rentel and Seastar, obtained a concession, but still have to apply for an environmental permit.
Both C-Power and Belwind already started the installation of an offshore wind farm. C-Power put in place six gravity based foundation (GBF) windmills on the Thorntonbank in 2008, which were the first windmills in Belgian waters. In 2009 no major construction activities took place at the CPower concession area. Yet, all six gravity based foundation windmills became fully operational on May 10th, 2009. At the Belwind concession area, construction activities started on September 8th, 2009, when the first of 56 monopiles was driven into the seabed. The piling activities of the first Belwind phase were finished on February 5th, 2010. A transition piece was installed on every monopile and in the first months of 2010 several wind turbines were already installed. It is expected that the first Belwind phase will be operational by the end of 2010.
To allow for a proper evaluation and auditing of the environmental impacts of offshore wind farms, the obliged environmental permit includes a monitoring program to ensure (1) the ability to mitigate or even halt the activities in case of extreme damage to the marine ecosystem and (2) an understanding of the environmental impact of offshore wind farms to support policy, management and design of future offshore wind farms. The former objective is basically tackled through the baseline monitoring, focusing on the a posteriori, resultant impact quantification, while the latter monitoring objective is covered by the targeted or process monitoring, focusing on the cause-effect relationships of a priori selected impacts1. As such, the baseline monitoring deals with observing rather than understanding impacts and hence leads to area-specific results, which might form a basis for halting activities. Targeted monitoring on the other hand deals with the understanding of the processes behind the impacts and hence leads to more generic results, which might form a sound basis for impact mitigation. For more details on baseline and targeted monitoring we refer to Degraer & Brabant (2009).
The first phase of the monitoring program started the year before the (anticipated) construction of the first wind turbines at the Thorntonbank (i.e. 2005). At the end of this first phase (2005-2012), an overview and discussion of the monitoring activities and outcomes between MUMM, its monitoring partners and the wind farm industry is planned. This workshop will be the first thorough evaluation of possible impacts of marine wind farms in Belgian waters.
The monitoring program targets physical (i.e. hydro-geomorphology and underwater noise), biological (i.e. hard substratum epifauna, hard substratum fish, soft substratum macrobenthos, soft substratum epibenthos and fish, seabirds and marine mammals), as well as socio-economical (i.e. seascape perception and offshore renewables appreciation) aspects of the marine environment.
The Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM) of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) coordinates the monitoring and specifically covers hydrogeomorphology, underwater noise, hard substratum epifauna, radar detection of seabirds, marine mammals and socio-economic aspects. In 2009, MUMM further collaborated with different institutes to complete the necessary expertise in the following domains: seabirds (Research Institute for Nature and Forest, INBO), soft substratum epibenthos and fish (Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, ILVO-Fisheries), and soft substratum macrobenthos and hard substratum fish (Marine Biology Section of Ghent University). For details on the specific research strategies followed and methodologies used, one is referred to the individual chapters.