Potential environmental effects of offshore wind (OSW) energy development are not well understood, and yet regulatory agencies are required to make decisions in spite of substantial uncertainty about environmental impacts and their long-term consequences. An understanding of risks associated with interactions between OSW installations and avian and aquatic receptors, including animals, habitats, and ecosystems, can help define key uncertainties and focus regulatory actions and scientific studies on interactions of most concern. During FY 2011, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) scientists adapted and applied the Environmental Risk Evaluation System (ERES), first developed to examine the effects of marine and hydrokinetic energy devices on aquatic environments, to offshore wind development. PNNL scientists conducted a risk screening analysis on two initial OSW cases: a wind project in Lake Erie and a wind project off the Atlantic coast of the United States near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The screening analysis revealed that top-tier stressors in the two OSW cases were the dynamic effects of the device (e.g., strike), accidents/disasters, and effects of the static physical presence of the device, such as alterations in bottom habitats. Receptor interactions with these stressors at the highest tiers of risk were dominated by threatened and endangered animals. Risk to the physical environment from changes in flow regime also ranked high. Peer review of this process and results will be conducted during FY 2012.
The ERES screening analysis provides an assessment of the vulnerability of environmental receptors to stressors associated with OSW installations; a probability analysis is needed to determine specific risk levels to receptors. As more data become available that document effects of offshore wind farms on specific receptors in U.S. coastal and Great Lakes waters, probability analyses will be performed.