The Streamlining of Ocean Wave Farms Impact Assessment (SOWFIA) project (IEE/09/809/ SI2.558291), funded by EU Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE), draws together ten partners, across seven European countries, all of whom are actively involved with monitoring at wave device test centres. The SOWFIA project aims to achieve the sharing and consolidation of pan-European experience of consenting processes and environmental and socio-economic impact assessment (IA) best practices for nearshore wave energy conversion developments.
Studies of wave energy demonstration projects in each of the collaborating EU nations have contributed to the findings. The study sites comprise a wide range of device technologies, environmental settings and stakeholder interests. Through SOWFIA workshops, meetings, on-going communication and networking amongst project partners, ideas and experiences relating to IA and policy have been shared, and coordinated studies addressing key questions for wave energy development carried out.
The overall goal of the SOWFIA project is to provide recommendations for European-wide streamlining of IA and approval processes, thereby helping to remove legal, environmental and socio-economic barriers to the development of offshore power generation from waves.
SOWFIA has gathered information on consenting processes, environmental monitoring and stakeholder interests at European wave energy test centres and has analysed this information to identify commonalities and differences between Member States. Test Centres have to go through the same processes that wave farms will and so are a good template for studying Impact Assessment. They also provide important baseline environmental data that can be checked over the pursuing years for WEC effects. The EIAs for each of the test centres have been synthesised and compared and through this analysis, the following recurrent themes in EIAs have emerged:
- Length of Baseline Studies. For most receptors, 2 years is identified as the minimum time to provide a baseline sufficient to detect changes attributable to the presence of WECs in the future.
- Electromagnetic Fields. There is a lack of any documented evidence of significant behavioural effect at a species level from EMF emissions by any existing undersea power cables. More work is needed to clarify this situation.
- EIA Monitoring Methodology. A BAG (Before-After-Gradient) design may be preferred by developers over a BACI (Before-After-Control-Impact) design (see Section 3.3).
To assist in future wave energy planning and decision-making the SOWFIA Data Management Platform (DMP) was developed. This is an interactive web-based tool designed to present Impact Assessment (IA) information in a format suitable for a non-technical audience and to assist the decision-making process for wave energy consenting. The core of the DMP is composed of environmental and socio-economic datasets collected at EU wave energy test centres. Available from http://sowfia.hidromod.com, access to the DMP is free to any registered users, allowing visualization and downloading of the datasets for each monitored location.
SOWFIA recommendations for wave energy IA streamlining are derived from consultation, workshops and dissemination activities involving a wide range of representatives from the wave energy community, including device developers, utilities, regulatory authorities, financiers and other stakeholders. Three critical themes have emerged, in which the recommendations are presented:
- Integrated Planning and Administrative Procedures;
- Environmental Impact Assessment;
- Human Dimensions and Consultation.
The synthesis of barriers, accelerators, lessons learned and recommendations are presented in Sections 2, 3 and 4 for each of these critical themes. Overall ‘Strategic’ and detailed ‘Operational’ recommendations are given for each of the themes, resulting from the European consultation and analysis. These are supplemented by Member State specific recommendations derived from consultation with national regulatory authorities and policy makers with the intention of making the recommendations more relevant to individual countries.
‘Strategic’ recommendations are viewed as being longer term actions perhaps requiring more significant changes and resources. ‘Operational’ recommendations refer to shorter term actions which could be implemented with minimal changes yet have the potential to make significant improvements to the consenting process. It should be noted that the level of resources (time/cost/re-structuring) will vary according to geographic location.