Over the last couple of decades scientists, engineers, regulators, developers, and other stakeholders have examined and identified six key environmental interactions, or potential risks, for the marine renewable energy (MRE) industry: animals colliding with turbines; effects of underwater noise from the operation of MRE devices on marine animals; effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) from power cables on marine animals; changes in seabed or water column habitats from installation and operation of MRE systems; displacement or barrier effects from MRE arrays that may keep animals from critical habitats, and; changes in circulation and sediment transport from MRE device operation (Kropp 2013; Copping et al. 2016; Copping and Grear 2018). Uncertainty remains about these potential interactions between MRE devices and the marine environment, which has led to scrutiny from regulators and other stakeholders that has created barriers to consenting/permitting (hereafter “consenting”) MRE devices and high costs for environmental monitoring. However, there is a growing body of knowledge that can aid the advancement of the MRE industry in the face of such challenges.
To help the MRE industry move forward, OES-Environmental has developed a process for facilitating consenting for small numbers of MRE devices so that each potential risk may not need to be investigated for every project. This process, called “risk retirement,” helps determine which interactions of MRE devices and the marine environment are low risk and may be “retired,” and which need further data collection and research, or new mitigation measures to increase understanding and limit impacts.
To aid in the determination of a risk being retired, OES-Environmental has put forth a risk retirement pathway. The pathway begins with describing an MRE project and potential environmental interactions, then progresses through five stages to determine if the risk can be retired or if more information or mitigation is needed. The five stages are as follows:
- Define risk: Determine if a likely/plausible risk exists for a particular project.
- Examine existing data: Determine whether sufficient data exists to demonstrate whether the risk is acceptable.
- Collect additional data: Collect additional data to determine whether the risk is acceptable.
- Apply existing mitigation: Apply existing mitigation measures to determine whether the risk can be mitigated.
- Test novel mitigation: Test novel mitigation measures to determine whether the risk can be mitigated.
The risk retirement process has been discussed with and found to be largely supported by the MRE community including developers, regulators, researchers, consultants, and other stakeholders. This report explains the concept of risk retirement, documents outreach and engagement efforts to gather feedback and test the concept, and examines future steps to increase the ability to retire risks throughout the MRE industry. Successful implementation of the risk retirement process within the international MRE community will accomplish the following:
- Reduce the amount of uncertainty regarding environmental effects of MRE deployments and add to the existing knowledge base;
- Facilitate consenting processes for both regulators and developers to reduce time and costs;
- Promote public understanding and acceptance of MRE projects; and
- Allow for resources to be dedicated to interactions that require further exploration and understanding.